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Family Photo
Lina and Tony Parker by the Atlanta Temple.

Editor's note: Noting the 30th anniversary of the 1978 priesthood revelation, this is part of a series of profiles on black Mormons and their families.

Lina didn't know that Tony decided on a whim to drive from his Army base in Texas to her home in Independence, Mo. She also didn't know that her father slammed the door on Tony, telling him he was not welcome at their house.

Lina had an uncompromising dream of being married in an LDS temple. But it was beginning to look like Tony would never join The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

She didn't know that one day Tony would be president of the Atlanta Georgia Stake.

"Stay away from Laie (Hawaii)," his Army buddies told him. "That's the Holy City. That's forbidden fruit over there."

But Fred Antioni "Tony" Parker had joined the Army to see the world, so one day in 1979 he found himself wandering around the BYU Hawaii campus.

Tony met Lina Malolo, a fifth-generation member of the LDS Church. Lina was from a large Samoan family, a student at the university and a performer at the Polynesian Cultural Center.

"Here was this black guy and he was wearing these little ugly blue pants," Lina said, "and I am thinking, 'you poor thing,' and how lost he looked." She and Tony spoke a short time, but wouldn't meet again for another month.

"I didn't know anybody," he said. "I didn't want to be tied down." So he crashed every wedding and luau he could in Laie.

Eventually, Tony and Lina met again and, with Lina's urging, Tony began to investigate the church.

"I thought it went a little slow," Lina said about his progress.

It took three years.

Tony was eventually transferred to Fort Hood in Texas, and Lina went back to Independence. Tony's experience with the slammed door didn't faze him.

"I totally understand," he said. "He just had the best interest of his daughter in mind. He wanted her to have someone who was active in church, held the priesthood and could take her to the temple. In order to respect her, I have to respect him."

Years later, Tony's attitude helps him deal with criticism that comes from being a prominent black leader of the LDS Church in Atlanta.

"It takes a lot to hurt my feelings," Tony said. "I've been called everything from a child of God to whatever. But you have to get beyond it and live your life. You can't live life with a chip on your shoulder. To give (prejudice) attention is to give it more attention than it deserves. I have no room in my life for it. I just keep right on going."

But back in January of 1983, Lina was frustrated and her father was losing patience. He told her Tony wasn't ever going to be baptized and she needed to move on.

"I had to be sure," Tony said. "This was something I wanted to do for myself and not for Lina. If I'm going to do something, I'm going to do it as best I can. If I was going to join the church, I was going to live up to it. I couldn't just do it on a Sunday. It's all encompassing. It takes all that you have in order for you to live by the gospel. You can't just turn it on and off."

Ten years later, Tony and Lina moved their family back to Tony's hometown of Atlanta. By then, Tony was a member of the LDS Church and he and Lina had been sealed together in the Oakland California Temple.

In Atlanta, Tony saw the great need of the people. Before moving there, he would go to church on Sunday, do his calling and go home.

"He changed in the blink of an eye," Lina said.

Tony became branch president, then bishop of the Atlanta Ward. He served as a counselor in the Atlanta Stake presidency before becoming stake president in 2005.

Although it was sometimes challenging, Lina and Tony continued to raise five children while giving service in the church.

According to Tony's second counselor, Stefan VanSant, when Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve came to speak at the stake, he told those gathered, "I don't know why I am here. You are in good hands."

On Jan. 26, 1983, Sister Janice Heiner brought a 14-year-old girl to help her teach a slowly progressing investigator. The girl, Candy Schriber, gave a prayer.

"It was one of the most sincere prayers I had ever heard or have heard since," Tony remembers. "She invited the spirit to be with us and that I would understand what was taught and that the spirit would touch me and my heart. She prayed not just for me, but for those who were around us. I hung on her every word."

Tony says he had heard many explanations of the gospel over the years, but that he needed the simple and pure version of a little girl.

"She was my ministering angel," Tony said. "To me, it was one of the most important nights in my life."

For the next few weeks, Tony's life began to turn around. "I could feel changes happening in my life," he said. "I stopped doing things I shouldn't do. The spirit was working with me."

Tony called Lina's father and asked him if he would baptize him.

"This same guy who kicked me out of his house!" Tony said. "Do you see how the spirit works with us? I knew there was no way he could say 'no.' He had to put these things aside and exercise the priesthood."

This time when Tony went to Independence, the door wasn't slammed. Tony's plan was to get baptized and marry Lina before he reported to his new assignment.

In two weeks.

Tony was amazed at the change in Lina's father.

"Immediately I could see the love this man had for me," he said. "The spirit changed both of our hearts."

On Saturday, Feb. 26, 1983, Tony played basketball from 9 to 11 a.m. with Lina's brother, was baptized by Lina's father at noon and was married by Lina's bishop at 1 p.m. In two days, the new couple was on its way to Tony's new assignment in Tennessee.

Years later, when Lina's father died, he left instructions to have Tony speak at his funeral. Lina says this was because her father now considered Tony, the man he once slammed the door on, to be his son.

Parker profile

Name: Fred Antioni Tony Parker

Wife: Lina Malolo Parker

Hometown: Atlanta

Married: Feb. 26, 1983

Sealed: Nov. 26, 1988

Occupation: Master Sergeant U.S. Army (retired). Currently works for Atlanta Housing Authority in the IT department.

Callings: Young Men president, elders quorum president, mission leader, branch president, bishop, counselor to stake president, stake president

Education: BA degree in communication from Morehouse College

Favorite Movie: Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?

E-mail: [email protected]