Dr. Dorothy Parker Elizabeth Blake

My name is Dorothy Parker Elizabeth Blake.  My mother calls me Dot.  Everyone else calls me Dr. Blake or Parker.  My mother is a high school English teacher.  She loves Dorothy Parker.  She wrote her Master’s thesis on the influence Parker had on the film industry in the 1930s and 1940s.  I love my mother.  I love going by Dr. Parker Blake.  Being known as Dorothy Parker was a bit much as a kid.  When I was in elementary school it wasn’t a big deal.  How many eight year olds have heard of Dorothy Parker?  The only taunt I received was being asked how I liked my trip to Oz?  (It was great, thanks for asking.)  By grade seven I was going by ‘Parker’ simply because ‘Dorothy’ was such a grandma name.  In high school I hung out with an artsy-smarty-geeky group.  In grade ten someone learned about Dorothy Parker and the Algonquin Round Table writers of the 1920s.  I wasn’t bullied or teased, but my group decided that Dorothy Parker was cool.  So through the rest of my high school years I to become a Dorothy Parker expert.  It wasn’t all bad.  My first real boyfriend wooed me by slipping Dorothy Parker quotations in my locker.  And, Dorothy Parker’s work is fun to read.  She was a clever, successful writer in an era when women were coming into their own.  The 1920s in particular were a great time to be a woman artist.  The 1930s were a grand era, if you had a job and some money.  Having this moniker was a little tiresome as a teenager but without it I probably wouldn’t have followed the path I’ve taken.  I’m a historian.  After high school I travelled and worked for a year.  Many of my friends went to Europe, the UK, Japan or tree planting.  I went to New York.  I was a nanny to an incredibly rich family.  I had evenings and weekends free so I learned everything about Dorothy Parker’s New York.  I hung around at the Algonquin.  I found places that used to house speakeasies.  I learned about jazz from super cool dudes.  I spent hours in museums and art galleries.  I spent a year in New York and barely scratched the surface of that place!  It’s different now than it was in the early nineties.  I go back every chance I get and the city is actually friendlier and sweeter than it was fifteen years ago.  However, the real reason for that story is to illuminate my path from geeky teenager to respected professor of history.  Once I returned to my home in a Vancouver suburb my parents started bugging me about  my future.  Having highly educated parents means that I became highly educated.  My mom has a master’s degree in English literature on top of her degrees in education.  My dad is a professor of chemistry at Simon Fraser University.  I guess after they got me into university they were satisfied because my brother apprenticed as a plumber.  He now has his own business and makes more in a month than I make in a year!  Well, that might be a slight exaggeration, but he does well and enjoys his work.  I do moderately well and enjoy my work.  I did my undergraduate degree in history at my hometown university.  Once I realized how much I enjoyed it and that I was pretty good at, I ventured further afield for graduate work.  I completed my master’s at the University of Toronto – go big or go home, I figured!  Having decided to focus on American history it made sense to apply to doctoral programs in the US.  There were a few great people I wanted to work with so I applied to the University of Washington, Las Vegas University, and a few places in New York and along the Eastern Seaboard.  To my shock and awe no only was I accepted to most of them, but I received full funding to do my PhD at Columbia University.  I spend five nearly  blissful years teaching, studying and writing in my beloved New York City.  It’s funny the paths down which life sends you.  I received my doctorate from Columbia a year after the tragedy and, as much as I love New York, I had to go home.  There weren’t too many openings for professors of American history but I found a sweet tenure-track position at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon.  Believe me I’d have taken almost anything if it got me to a job in Canada.  I actually thought I was taking ‘anything’ when I accepted the position in Saskatoon.  However, it’s a great town and a decent institution.  The province has great history for my particular area of study.  My current research is examining the bootleg operations in the province during Prohibition in the twenties.  There’s a lot of legends about Al Capone and Dutch Schultz visiting Moose Jaw and Bienfait.  I’m working on sorting out myth from truth.  I also consult for the Saskatoon Police Service.  The service’s Historical Cases Unit is pretty small – like, two detectives small.  You might think a town like Saskatoon wouldn’t have too many cold cases, but you’d be surprised.  There are a number of unsolved cases on the books.  Some of them will probably never be solved.  Whenever a new technique becomes available the detectives put it to their advantage.  When new evidence comes to light they’re all over it.  I’ve never seen people more dedicated to their work.  Lisa and Dave work these cases every day – reworking old evidence and case files, following new leads, taking calls from relatives, getting in touch with law enforcement all over the continent, working with forensics experts, and, sometimes, consulting with historians.  ‘Forensic Historian’ was not something I set out to become.  In fact, I’d never heard of such a thing until Detective Constable Lisa Klassen called me about a year ago.


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