By Donna Cornelius
Royal life isn’t all it’s cracked up to be – at least for Foots Parnell.
Parnell, this year’s Beaux Arts Krewe Ball King, said a friend asked him if his newly-acquired noble status excused him from household chores.
“I told him I still had to take out the garbage,” Parnell said, smiling.
The commercial mortgage banker will reign over the 48th annual ball, set this year for Feb. 13 at Birmingham’s Boutwell Auditorium.
The event has two purposes. First, it’s a night filled with pageantry and tradition as Boutwell Auditorium is turned into a Great Hall with banners and candles.
Twenty-nine young women will make their debut at the ball this year. From those, four ladies-in-waiting and the queen will be chosen and announced that night with lots of fanfare.
The ball also has a philanthropic goal, raising money for the Birmingham Museum of Art.
Parnell, who lives in Mountain Brook, said he was excited about the event and honored by his selection as king.
“But it’s not my nature to be in the spotlight,” he said. “My thinking is that I’ll be in the spotlight for a few minutes, and then people will be looking at the queen and the presentees.”
Parnell’s association with the Krewe came through his father, the late Dr. L.C. “Foots” Parnell Jr. The elder Parnell, a well-known Birmingham obstetrician and gynecologist, was a longtime Krewe member.
“One day, I got a call from my dad,” Parnell said. “He was supposed to present a girl, the daughter of a friend that year. He told me, ‘I’m out, you’re in’ as a Krewe member – and also that I’d be presenting the girl.”
Parnell was no stranger to the Krewe balls. He escorted several princesses when he was a student at the University of Alabama, he said. His two daughters were first trainbearers and then ladies-in-waiting, and he has served as a King’s Duke and member of the Queen’s Guard.
Parnell’s brother-in-law, James Earnest Grisham, is Krewe president this year. Mary Virginia Grisham, his niece, will be among the presentees.
Like his British royal counterparts, this year’s Krewe King is a sportsman. He loves to spend time at Foothills, his hunting property in Maplesville, he said, where he and his wife, Allene, built a cabin.
“I like to go there as often as I can,” Parnell said. “My six-generation grandfather homesteaded there. Over the years, I ended up with the property.”
While the land has a large deer population, he likes hunting turkey and “pretty much anything with wings,” he said.
Allene likes the outdoor life as well. To celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary, the couple and some friends went to Africa for a two-week photo safari in Zimbabwe and Botswana.
“That was the first time I’d been on vacation that long,” Parnell said. “I love what I do.”
As managing member of Birmingham’s InterFirst Capital LLC, “I’m the middle man,” he said. “I help developers find the right source of financing. I love the art of the deal.”
Parnell also likes being involved in his community.
After his daughter, Carleton Benners Parnell, died of cancer at age 22, the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center became a cause that’s close to his heart. He joined the advisory board there and has served as its chairman.
His other daughter, Allene Neighbors, drew his attention to another organization. She is development director for PreSchool Partners, which helps prepare at-risk 3 and 4-year-olds to enter kindergarten at Birmingham City schools.
“Right now, we’re building a new school for PreSchool Partners, and I’m co-chairing the capital campaign,” Parnell said.
The building project has had lots of supporters, he said, ranging from a friend who donated the old McElwain school property for PreSchool Partners’ new home to the architect, contractor and subcontractors.
“We’ve had so many in-kind donations,” Parnell said.
The UA graduate maintains ties with his alma mater, especially the Crimson Tide baseball program. He played baseball at Alabama for two years, and the university’s Sewell-Thomas Stadium gets part of its name from Bama baseball great Joe Sewell, Parnell’s maternal grandfather.
Parnell is a member of the UA Baseball Steering Committee. He’s also pleased that Joe Sewell will be the focal point of a museum at the updated facility.
“We have lots of memorabilia that we’ll give to the museum,” he said.
Sewell was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., in 1977, the only University of Alabama player to receive the sport’s highest honor.
“I accompanied him when he was inducted,” Parnell said.
Sewell also helped his grandson develop a love for hunting, Parnell said.
“Now, I’m a member of a group of 15 guys who call ourselves the Smiling Mallards,” Parnell said. “I’m the fourth Smiling Mallard to be the Krewe King.”
The king chooses eight friends to serve as his dukes at the ball, and seven of Parnell’s entourage are fellow Smiling Mallards: Mac Beale, Hubert Goings, Mike Goodrich, Jim Hughey, Richard Hydinger, Alex Nading and Mo Smith.
The eighth Duke is Parnell’s cousin, Stan Starnes of Tuscaloosa.
“He’s an honorary Smiling Mallard,” Parnell said.
Just for fun, all the men will wear – somewhere on their regal attire – colorful buttons depicting a mallard head.
While Parnell is an avid hunter, committed businessman and dedicated community worker, another part of his life takes top priority.
Daughter Allene and her husband, Hugh Neighbors, have two children, Hugh, age 3, and Carleton, who’s 1 ½ years old.
“They’re the loves of my life,” Parnell said.