Judge Robert J. Parins, the first fulltime president of the Green Bay Packers and the one who laid some of the groundwork for the franchise’s success over the past quarter-century, died Friday night in the Village of Hobart, just outside Green Bay.
Parins, 98, served as president of the Packers from 1982 to 1989. He also was a member of the team’s board of directors for 28 years and was a director emeritus at the time of his death.
Parins was inducted into the Packers Hall of Fame in 1998.
During Parins’ seven years as president, he put an end to the Packers’ long-standing practice of vesting full authority of their football operation in one man and from a business standpoint allowed the franchise to broaden its financial horizons by overseeing the construction of the first luxury boxes at Lambeau Field.
Under Parins’ leadership, the corporation’s net worth – the value of stock proceeds plus accumulated earnings – climbed from roughly $14.9 million to $25.9 million. He also handpicked Bob Harlan as his successor.
Former Packers President Judge Robert J. Parins dies at 98
The Packers’ football operation had been under the control of an all-powerful coach and general manager for essentially 28 years until Parins hired Tom Braatz as executive vice president of football operations in 1987 and stripped coach Forrest Gregg of his authority over personnel matters.
When Parins threw his support behind Harlan in 1989, it ended a policy that had been in effect for 66 years of appointing a local civic leader as team president. That precedent was established in 1923 when the Packers became a community-owned team and continued for eight presidents through Parins’ tenure.
“That was one of the great things he did,” the late Jack Koeppler, a longtime member of the Packers’ board and a prominent Green Bay businessman himself, said of Parins in a 2006 interview. “It’s too big a business.”
While it wasn’t until two years after Parins stepped down and Harlan hired Ron Wolf as general manager that the Packers’ fortunes on the field improved dramatically, change usually occurs in increments and not without resistance.
So as Parins nudged the Packers into a rapidly changing NFL during the 1980s, he drew criticism for some of his efforts.
“A judge lives a contemplative and reclusive life,” George A. Burns, a Milwaukee County circuit court judge and member of the Packers’ board, said in 1983. “He can’t care about public relations. That’s reflected in Judge Parins’ style as Packer president.”
Those who usher in change also usually face roadblocks and don’t always get their way about everything.
While he was still vice president but assuming more and more duties as president, Parins attempted to hire Pro Football Hall of Fame general manager Jim Finks, who would not long after resign as GM with the Chicago Bears as the result of a falling out with ownership.
“I asked (George Halas) for permission to talk to Jim Finks and he refused me, which I was really surprised about,” Parins said in a lengthy 2006 interview. “I had talked to Art Rooney and Tex Schramm and Wellington Mara – those were the guys I went to for advice – and they all said, ‘Get Jim Finks.’ They said that he and George weren’t getting along. But (Halas) refused to give me permission and that ended that.”
Under Parins’ guidance, the Packers also built their first indoor practice facility, expanded their administration building and training facilities, and overturned an aging executive committee.
Among Parins’ choices for the executive committee were prominent local businessmen and community advocates Don Schneider, Phil Hendrickson, John Fabry, Peter Platten III and Don Harden.
“One of the things I take credit for is the various committees, like the investment committee,” Parins said in 2006. “It would be a shame not to use the skill and judgment of all these smart people in business.”
Parins was elected president on May 3, 1982, given the additional title of CEO in 1988 and served in those capacities until he retired June 5, 1989. Previously, he was elected vice president when he joined the executive committee in 1979, and then was given the authority to perform the duties of the principal executive officer on Oct. 11, 1981.
Parins was elected to the board of directors on May 23, 1966. He was named honorary chairman in 1991 and director emeritus in 1994. Long before he became a director, Parins volunteered to join one of the teams that went door-to-door selling Packers stock in 1950.
A native of Green Bay, Parins was already an avid fan of the Packers when they won their first three NFL championships from 1929 to 1931.
“My father had tickets to the Packers’ games back in the late ‘20s,” Parins said in 2006. “I used to go with him. In those days, you could get in with your parents for nothing, just walk with them, which I did.
“Whenever, (my father) wasn’t going to the game or using his tickets, then in those days, it was commonplace for the kids – I was like under 12 – to go to the back door of East High School, where the gym was, and you could always get in with a player if you could get to carry his helmet. I used to carry the headgear for Jug Earp.”
Parins graduated from Green Bay East High School in 1936 and the University of Wisconsin Law School in 1940. He served as a Brown County circuit judge from 1968 to 1982.
Parins is survived by his wife, Elizabeth. They celebrated their 76th wedding anniversary last February. Parins also is survived by five children, 11 grandchildren and 27 great-grandchildren. Included are four daughters – Claire (Jim) Braun, Andree (John) Chamberlin, Teresa (Bob) Eckberg and LuAnn Parins (Mark Weinheimer) – and one son, Richard (Kris) Parins.
Funeral arrangements are pending.