ST. LOUIS — Kind and congratulatory words flowed profusely for UMA President and CEO Vic Parra in St. Louis during his last Expo, including a touching video tribute from members and a poetic toast at the annual Leadership Awards Celebration.
Parra, clearly touched by the sentiments expressed for his 19 years at the job from which he retired March 31, reflected on his Catholic faith in his thank-you speech at the close of the event.
“As a Catholic, I believe that no matter what happens to the body, the soul lives on forever, and UMA has a soul and that soul is made up of everyone in this room and everyone out there who is part of this organization,” Parra said.
“So as long as you remain involved, as long as you stay engaged, this organization’s (going to) do fine because you are UMA. It’s not about Vic Parra, it’s not about the staff, it’s not even about our board. It’s about all of you.
“And so it’s been an amazing ride, it truly has been an amazing ride. I really thank you for the privilege and for the honor to represent you, to protect you and to fight for you. Thank you and God bless.”
Earlier in the evening, flanked on stage by numerous past UMA board chairmen, Parra shared thoughts on stepping into UMA in 1998 knowing virtually nothing about the bus industry. He remembered asking people what he needed to know and remembers hearing, “This is a relationship-driven industry. It’s all about relationships.”
Parra said he didn’t fully appreciate that until his second week on the job, when then-Chairman Calvin Cooper told Parra he needed to visit a bus company and invited him to his American Coach Lines operation in Georgia, outside Atlanta.
When Parra asked for a hotel recommendation, he remembers Cooper saying something along the lines of, “Nonsense.”
Cooper told Parra he would pick him at the airport, have him stay at his house, meet his family, see his ranch, then visit his company and others.
“That floored me,” Parra said. “It brought home that definition of relationships.”
He referenced words from mentor Clarence Arata, late executive director of the then-Washington, D.C., Convention and Visitors Association, when Parra was hired in the early 1980s as executive director of the National Timesharing Council.
“He said, ‘Now that you’re taking over an association, you will have been successful if you become the easiest person to replace.’ We can argue whether we’ve been successful, but I guarantee you that replacing me is not going to be a challenge.”
The UMA board and others presented Parra with thank-you gifts, including a folded and framed American flag flown over the White House on Martin Luther King Day this year.
UMA Chairman Dale Krapf told Parra, “It takes a very particular personality and a special person to run an association of 900-plus members, members that are all incredible people that have a wide variety of personalities — no easy task. Well done, my friend.”
Bill Gentry of Gentry Trailways offered a concluding toast and poem, finishing by telling Parra a movie line Gentry remembered: “Good form, good form.”
With that, the ballroom emptied and people headed to an annual post-dinner event renamed, in perpetuity, “Vic Parra Cigars and Cordials.”