MARTA CEO Jeffrey Parker, 56, has died

MARTA CEO Jeffrey Parker speaks during a press conference last May. He died Friday night. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer/Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Credit: Alyssa Pointer/Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

MARTA CEO Jeffrey Parker speaks during a press conference last May. He died Friday night. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

MARTA CEO Jeffrey Parker, who led the public transit agency through an era of expansion and pandemic, died Friday night, the agency confirmed.

The agency said Parker died by suicide. An agency official confirmed he was struck by a train at the East Lake station. The DeKalb County Medical Examiner’s Office said it could release no details of Parker’s death until its investigation is complete.

“The MARTA Board of Directors grieves the shocking death of our GM/CEO Jeff Parker who has died by suicide,” Chairwoman Rita Scott said in a statement Saturday. “He was an outstanding leader and steward of MARTA whose passing leaves us all heartbroken.

“As chairwoman and on behalf of my fellow MARTA board members, we are devastated at this loss as we valued Jeff’s leadership and looked forward to him bringing his vision for transit to fruition,” Scott said. “The entire metro Atlanta region owes him a debt of gratitude for his transformational efforts and we will not stop working to build on the foundation he created.”

Only on rare occasion does The Atlanta Journal-Constitution report death by suicide. The newspaper will typically respect the privacy of grieving families in such a circumstance. But in this case, a well-known public figure’s family is sharing the news with the public as a way to counter the stigma attached to suicide. The newspaper is honoring that request.

Parker, 56, had led MARTA for nearly four years. He oversaw its expansion plans in Atlanta and Clayton County and helped negotiate a new agreement among its member jurisdictions that paved the way for a 10-year sales tax extension.

Parker also guided MARTA to a solid performance during the 2019 Super Bowl, when hundreds of thousands of fans packed trains headed to the big game and related festivities. And he helped negotiate a new labor agreement that gave workers 3 percent annual raises and boosted pay in other ways.

More recently, Parker helped guide MARTA through nearly two years of the coronavirus pandemic. As ridership plummeted and staff illnesses increased, the agency has been forced to scale back bus service. It also has increased cleaning and taken other steps to protect passengers and employees, while relying on federal funds to help pay its bills.

Parker was an advocate of transit expansion, calling for a $100 billion transit “moonshot” for metro Atlanta in 2019. On Wednesday, during an online “state of MARTA” address, Parker said a bipartisan infrastructure bill approved by Congress — which included $923 million for transit in the region — was a step toward that goal.

Parker was consistently recognized as one of Atlanta’s most influential leaders, most recently named among Atlanta Magazine’s Most Powerful People of 2020 and Atlanta Business Chronicle’s Power 100: Most Influential Atlantans of 2020.

On Saturday afternoon, the MARTA board named Collie Greenwood to be interim CEO and general manager. Greenwood joined MARTA in 2019 as chief of bus operations and was promoted to deputy general manager for operations a year ago.

State and local leaders expressed shock and sadness at Parker’s death.

“He had an incredible mind for transportation and logistics and a heart for people,” Gov. Brian Kemp said. “He will be greatly missed.”

“Jeff Parker was a visionary leader — one who saw the awesome potential of transit and what it means for our communities,” state House of Representatives Speaker David Ralston said Saturday. “He understood the power of collaboration and was an invaluable partner in moving our state forward.”

“Jeff understood that MARTA is more than just a transportation system — it represents connectivity for residents and visitors of our great city and region,” Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens said.

Doug Hooker, executive director of the Atlanta Regional Commission, called Parker “an inspirational and driven leader who steered MARTA through one of the most challenging periods in the agency’s history.

“He championed a modernized, more equitable transit system that puts the customer first, a vision that will be lasting,” Hooker said.

“Jeff was our colleague, leader and friend,” said Robbie Ashe, a longtime member of the MARTA Board of Directors. “He was thoughtful and kind, always interested in moving MARTA forward, and a blessing in our lives. I am heartbroken for him, for his family, and for all of us at MARTA.”

Parker previously was vice president at infrastructure and design firm HNTB Corp.’s Atlanta office. During his career, he also oversaw transit operations in Boston and Connecticut, and he directed MARTA’s rail, bus and paratransit services from 2005 to 2008.

“Jeff cared deeply about MARTA and his leadership gave us a strong foundation from which to carry forward,” the agency statement said.

MARTA said it would share more information on a leadership transition plan in coming days. It also said it will “provide grief counseling for employees as we process this devastating news.”

“As we struggle to understand the complexity of this tragedy, we grieve with and for his wife Erin, his daughters and all of Jeff’s family and friends as well as his MARTA family,” Scott said. “As we continue to grieve, we want you to know that suicide is preventable and help is available to you.”

SEEKING HELP: Individuals with suicidal thoughts, or those who notice signs in others, can call the Georgia Crisis and Access Line at 1-800-715-4225, which is available around the clock. All calls are free and confidential. To find a mental health service provider, visit www.mygcal.com.


Comments on the death of MARTA CEO Jeffrey Parker

“Parker understood the importance of MARTA and public transit for our city, our members, and our citizens. Recently, we had been working with Parker to further strengthen the relationship between our Union and management that recognized the critical role our members have played in keeping our communities moving through the challenging times of the pandemic. In his memory, we will continue that important work and strive to make MARTA safer, more accessible and more affordable for all Atlantans.” — Britt Dunams, president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 732

“Jeff Parker was one of the kindest and most well-respected individuals I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing. He was a consummate professional — completely dedicated to doing the best job possible.” — Fulton County Commission Chairman Robb Pitts

“Jeff Parker’s passing is profoundly heartbreaking, and our deepest condolences go out to his family and friends. His time at MARTA was marked with both a pragmatic and profound vision for our region’s future, and his intelligence, thoughtfulness and dedication will be sorely missed. We ask that you keep his loved ones and the staff and board at MARTA in your thoughts and prayers as we mourn this devastating loss.” — Atlanta City Council

“Last night metro Atlanta lost a true public servant and a leader in the field of transportation. MARTA CEO Jeff Parker was not only a trusted colleague, but a dear friend. He was instrumental in the efforts to expand transit services in Fulton County and the entire Atlanta region. So much will be written about his leadership at MARTA, but he will be known as an inspiration and champion for the transportation industry in our state.” — Fulton County Commissioner Liz Hausmann

“Jeff Parker was a true advocate for public transit and the citizens MARTA served. It was a pleasure working with Jeff over the years and his leadership in our industry will be missed. We will continue to keep his immediate family and his MARTA family in our thoughts and prayers.” — Chris Tomlinson, executive director, Atlanta-Region Transit Link Authority.

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