Manuel Parra, who advanced the personal computer market in Latin America, making them accessible to many, died at his home in Houston on March 20; the cause was pancreatic cancer.
Born in the Andean city of Tunja, Colombia in 1940, his family established roots in the capital, Bogota, Colombia. He emigrated to Chicago when he was eighteen because Bogota was mired in a period of historical violence.
In Chicago, Manuel enrolled in DePaul University and studied mathematics. At DePaul, he fell in love with the homecoming queen, Nancy Mikolas, from Chicago. They married on July 3, 1965 and celebrated their honeymoon in Milwaukee amidst Independence Day parades.
Manuel did doctoral work in mathematics at the University of Illinois at Chicago and returned to Bogota, Colombia in 1970 to teach at the University of Colombia alongside his colleague, Ricardo Losada, and a cohort of talented mathematicians that included Antanas Mockus, who would become mayor of Bogota.
Manuel returned to the United States to work for the World Bank in 1974 in Washington, DC, and was given the assignment of leading the Bank’s transportation project in San Salvador, El Salvador. Soon afterwards he founded Parra Myers Associates, a consulting firm in San Salvador and Washington, DC, with Myron Myers, an economist and colleague. Parra Myers and Associates established offices throughout Central America and assisted many of the Central American countries to develop infrastructure projects and modernize the governments’ information technology.
In 1987, Manuel moved to Boca Raton, Florida to lead Unisys’s new enterprise division in Latin America. Unisys had an established market in the banking industry, and Manuel’s charge was to develop new business areas. Manuel devoted his energy into exploring and developing new software technologies.
By 1990, Compaq Computers had become IBM’s biggest rival in the personal computer market and was poised to overpass them. They had entered the European market and were ready to venture into Latin America. Manuel was hired to take on that challenge. He recalled arriving to a floor of empty offices and starting operations from scratch. By the mid-90s, Compaq was the leader in personal computers in Latin America. He was known for his staff meetings, in which he crunched the numbers in his head and set sales targets beyond what the team thought they could do, yet, in the end, they accomplished.
Manuel oversaw the opening of a factory in Brazil for Compaq that would manufacture personal computers to serve Brazil’s growing demand, Latin America’s largest market behind Mexico. Another advantage of the factory in Brazil was the talented soccer squad that emerged. That squad won the Compaq inter-league computer soccer championship in Europe, which was one of Manuel’s fondest memories.
Manuel retired from Compaq in 1998 to assist his son start his architecture and development company in Houston, Parra Design Group. Manuel had a keen sense of numbers and could close any real estate deal with his charisma. In his retirement, he also became the chairman and helped launch a technology company, Artinsoft, in Costa Rica, and Mobilize in Bellevue, Washington.
Manuel also loved dogs and was the proud owner of two Giant Schnauzers that both became Grand Champions. He walked his dogs five to ten miles every day. Manuel, a long-distance runner in high school, enjoyed hiking in nature. He climbed Mount Meru in Tanzania at the age of 70 with his son.
Manuel adopted Costa Rican rain forest as his second home and built a house there in the Gandoca-Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge. He made it his mission to preserve and reforest his property by agreeing not to develop it and by planting over a thousand slow growth trees.
Manuel is survived by his wife, Nancy, son, Camilo, his daughter-in-law, Meng Yeh, and granddaughters, Catalina and Marie and by his sister, Carmenza Parra de Fajardo.
A visitation will be held at Bradshaw-Carter Funeral Home, Wednesday, March 24, 2021 at five o'clock in the evening, with a service starting at seven o'clock. A livestream of the service is available here: https://www.oneroomstreaming.com/view/authorise.php?k=1616525233107266
In lieu of flowers, please send donations to MD Anderson, the Humane Society or the Rain Forest Alliance.