Fred Parker, 1941 – 2020

Fred Parker passed away peacefully at home on April 26, after a six-month battle with esophageal cancer. He was a great father, husband, friend, business owner, and community leader. He lived life on his own terms and remained true to the western aesthetic rooted in his genealogy.

Fred was well-loved for his generosity, sense of fun and creativity, be it the Hard Times Cafe, his chili spice business, the Halloween Time Machine Extravaganza, the many parties thrown in his adobe hacienda, and his unwavering support for community fundraisers.

Among Fred’s many accomplishments, he was most proud of his family, which always came first. Fred will be remembered for his passion, his kindness, and above all, his commitment to preserving what he believed the Hard Times Cafe represented – both a world-class chili parlor and an homage to Western culture.

This website is dedicated to remembering Fred’s life.

We will also be publishing updates about the upcoming Zoom livestream memorial service. Please stay tuned and leave a comment with your favorite memories of Fred. (To leave a comment, please scroll down toward the bottom of this page and look for the “Post a Comment” box).


  1. When we moved in across the street from Fred and Carol, we had no idea that we would need hundreds of pieces of candy each Halloween as children (and adults) lined up our hill to go into the Parker’s haunted house. The fun always continued into winter, with the annual holiday open house at the Parkers, complete with chili dogs, Hard Times root beer, adult refreshments and special treats. As soon as snow hit our hill, the adults would gather late night for drinks and sled runs down the Hill. One night, as we were getting into bed, we glimpsed Fred and Carol out there by themselves enjoying some laughs and a few runs down the slick hill. After one particularly heavy snow fall, when Owen was a little more than 11 years old, Fred asked Owen and Jeff to help shovel snow from the flat roof on their house – under Fred’s supervision, Owen then jumped off the roof into a pile of fresh snow two stories below! Fred also recruited Owen to be a a Secret Service agent to March along side of his Hard Times pick up with George Washington mounted on the horse in the back. One of our daughter’s favorite memories is the summer when Fred drove the truck and horse home for lunch several times – there is nothing like seeing the horse come rolling up the street! Fred appreciated a good party and was kind enough to drive his truck and horse over to Jeff’s western/cowboy themed surprise birthday party. We will miss his friendly demeanor and welcoming smile.

    The Hulls

  2. We met Fred through our dear friend Suzanne. We have had the privilege (and great fun) of riding with Fred in the annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade for a number of years. It was so evident how beloved he is! Sending our condolences to his family and friends.

  3. I knew Fred mostly as my older brother, Louis’, good high school friend (although they went to different high schools together). Through them, Fred’s brother, Jim, also became a buddy of mine, and we hung out for a time, going to jazz clubs (and thinking we were very cool) and an occasional concert. Jim and I lost touch over the years, but Louis and Fred remained friends. But mostly what I remember are Fred’s high school antics – which entailed (if I’m not mistaken) kidnapping Cotton Kent, at one point, and hiring a young woman to lure another friend into a compromising position, just as everyone jumped out and yelled, “Surprise!” Like my sister, Helen, I hadn’t seen Fred since my dad’s 80th birthday, back in 1988, for which Hard Times supplied the chili. But I’ll never forget him! Rest in peace.

  4. I met Fred in 1967 when he lived in an alley apartment off Dupont Circle. It was full of stuff–including a toilet sitting off in a corner–which he curated into an only slightly less chaotic collection when he moved to the Delray section of Alexandria. Since those long-ago times he became a successful restauranter and a wonderful family man. But always retained a bit of the slightly wild man aura from those sweet DC hippie days.

  5. Fred was the first real cowboy I ever met. Enjoyed spending time with him on community boards and activities–from First Night to KSMET. I will miss him.

  6. Fred was a good man and a good friend. He was one of the finest and nicest men I’ve ever known. My life is better because I knew Fred Parker. I’ll miss him always.

    1. Even though Fred & I lived five houses apart from jr high to graduation, Wakefield High. I moved to Colorado in 1973. So the only time I got to see Fred was at school reunions. I did bring him a western vest that said “Mountain States Pro Rodeo Circuit Finals. I’ve been involved with rodeos for 47 years and thought he would like the vest, since he liked to dress western. Will miss him.

  7. Dear Carol, Jonathan & Ned,
    The Williams Family sends our deepest condolences to you all in the loss of your dear husband and father. Fred was an extraordinary , creative and giving person ( and indeed the very BEST chili chef in the world. ) He was one of our favorite people that we had the opportunity of meeting at SSSAS and indeed helped Winston (great friends with Ned:) to “navigate the waters” of his adolescent years , for which we will always be grateful ! He will be sorely missed but we know the angels are rejoicing as they partake of the awesome Hard Times Chili but mostly as they enjoy the presence of such a kind, wonderful gentleman. God’s peace and blessings to you all.
    With love , Jon, Robin, Winston, Garrett & Kathleen. ❤️

  8. So sorry to hear of Fred’s passing. He was an ALEXANDRIA treasure that will be missed by many.
    In 1980 my father was excited about a new chili restaurant opening by his office on King Street, he talked about it for months and I remember him taking me there when I was in the fifth grade, the first week it opened. I’ve been a customer for 40 years.

    Fred’s contributions to the Alexandria Sportsman’s club, Alexandria Rotary club and so many other local organizations are truly grateful to his service to our city.

  9. Fred was my neighbor for 30 years since Gold Works and Hard Times are next door to each other we shared many good times from taking the truck to the Parade to having Chili. Fred would always show up at all the Supper Under The Stars as far back as I can remember with his wonderful chili stand and his great ability to bring his humor and his staff. I’ll miss playing for you at the open mic at Hard times Fred .I miss you.

  10. Fred and I were Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity brothers at the University of Arizona circa 1962 through 1965. We had a four part singing group in which Fred was the lead singer and I was the second tenor. We sang at many fraternity and sorority parties and actually sounded pretty good. I remember on a few occasions we practiced in the community shower at the fraternity because we thought we sounded better with the wall echos. Alcohol may have been involved!
    Rest in Peace brother.

    Bill Coonce, class of 1965.

  11. Thank you for creating this website – what a great tribute to Fred. He left an imprint on more hearts than he probably ever realized. I think Ned said it best in the article – Fred “was that rare breed of cool and kind” and he taught us all we can be both. I feel blessed to have known him.

  12. My husband Rick and I knew Fred as a businessman and owner of the best chili parlor we ever visited. He was on the board of First Night Alexandria and the Old Town Business Association. He was a kind and generous man and we will miss him as will everyone in Alexandria. Fred was as much an institution as the Hard Times on King Street and the truck in every parade. Fred is with Jim again. Rest In Peace dear Fred.

  13. My younger brother and sister were friends with the Parker boys. I remember the stories of persuasive schemes and elaborate pranks from their teenage years.
    I last saw Fred in the Fall of 1988 in Washington, when he served up some of his now famous chili at my father’s 80th birthday gathering.
    Quite a character!

  14. Fred was my friend for about 65 years, ever since junior high at Wakefield. My condolences to Carol, Ned, and Jonathan.
    Fred was a larger than life character, especially in Alexandria – his hometown that he loved – and at the Hard Times Cafe. Generous, nice, and a good man.

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