MARTA CEO Jeffrey Parker's Wife Speaks Out to Raise Suicide Prevention Awareness After His Death

"I want people to know that suicide does not have to be an option," Erin Harlow-Parker tells PEOPLE

MARTA CEO Jeffrey Parker
Jeffrey Parker and Erin Harlow-Parker. Photo: Erin Harlow-Parker

Erin Harlow-Parker is getting personal in the hopes that by sharing her family's story, she can help save lives and reduce the stigma associated with mental illness.

On Jan. 14, her husband Jeffrey Parker — the CEO and general manager of the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority — died by suicide.

After Erin and Jeff met during college in 1986, their relationship quickly blossomed into a sweet partnership.

"He was my best friend, my favorite travel buddy and an amazing dad," Erin Harlow-Parker, 55, tells PEOPLE of her husband of over 35 years.

"There is so much I will miss about Jeff," she says. "Most importantly, I will miss spending my life with him."

MARTA CEO Jeffrey Parker
Jeffrey Parker and Erin Harlow-Parker. Erin Harlow-Parker

Throughout this difficult time, Harlow-Parker — an advanced practice registered nurse specializing in child and adolescent psychiatry — has leaned on her loved ones.

"These past two weeks have been the hardest of my life," she says. "I could not have gotten through without the support of my friends and family."

In particular, Harlow-Parker has been moved by the strength and courage of her daughters Gabrielle and Izzy — who wrote a tribute to their father for a memorial fund, which is raising money for the local Georgia chapter of the American Foundation of Suicide Prevention.

"Jeff and I raised them to be strong-minded, empathetic, compassionate and courageous young women," Harlow-Parker says. "I am so grateful that we did that together."

In the tribute, Gabrielle and Izzy remembered their father as "a goofball, our goofball."

"We would do anything to hear one of his stupid jokes again. We will always miss him and we will always love him," they continued, going on to share an important message on behalf of their entire family.

"What drove him to this terrible decision, we can never fully know and as we continue to grieve, we want you to know that suicide is preventable, and help is available to you," they wrote. "Please remember that suicide is never the answer and that you are loved greatly."

MARTA CEO Jeffrey Parker
Erin Harlow-Parker

Although Harlow-Parker says it's "human nature" to think about "what I could have done — what I could have seen," ultimately "there are no answers" to those questions.

"Avoid looking for the way or some dark secret that answers why it happened," she advises. "We can only accept the person's complexity and use our platforms to save future people."

"The only way to reduce the stigma related to mental illness is for us to talk about it and not see it as someone's weakness or fault," she adds.

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At a celebration of life held for her husband last month, Reverend Kimberly Jackson, a state senator, told the standing-room-only crowd, "We must not let the way in which Jeff died be the defining moment of his life."

"He lived a full life, and that is worth celebrating," Jackson added.

Afterwards, Harlow-Parker says her family was touched by how many guests shared their own stories, talking openly about mourning loved ones who had died by suicide.

"I think Jeff would have been proud," Harlow-Parker says of the important dialogue. "He always supported me and the work that I do."

Though heartbroken, Harlow-Parker is trying to show up for others.

"I could not help Jeff, and he suffered quietly in silence. What I can do is use my voice to openly share our family tragedy with the hope that we can save future lives and push for change related to mental health awareness and policy," she says.

"I want people to know that suicide does not have to be an option," she adds. "There is help and you are loved."

If you or someone you know is considering suicide, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), text "STRENGTH" to the Crisis Text Line at 741-741 or go to

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