Garden serves as tribute to Brittany Parrish

by Sonja J. Keith

While 11-year-old Brittany Parrish’s dream of attending Central Baptist College was never realized, the young girl has a special place on campus dedicated in her memory.

Brittany died Nov. 3, 1992, after accidentally ingesting a balloon that lodged in her voice box. Although she was still years away from attending college, she had already planned to study at CBC with her best friend Jessica Jameson, whose father teaches at the college.

CBC President Terry Kimbrow thought it would be a fitting tribute to dedicate a garden along the east side of the new David T. Watkins Academic Building in Brittany’s memory. “Donny and Datha (Brittany’s parents) have sacrificed so much,” adding that his family and the Parrish family have been acquainted for many years. He added that many have heard about Brittany and her plan to attend CBC. “I knew a lot of people knew her story and would respond.”

The lead gift for the garden — $15,000 — was donated by the senior adult conference that Donny leads for the Baptist Missionary Association. In addition, more than $6,000 was donated through a love offering held at the SOAR youth conference. CBC faculty and staff have also donated. So far, $30,000 of the $50,000 has been raised for the garden, which features various shrubs, day lilies and Knockout Roses. 

“We’re honored that they would think of Brittany and remember her,” Donny said. “It’s pretty humbling.”

Donny and Datha moved back to Central Arkansas, to Conway, about six months ago after he served 12 years as the executive pastor of a church in Forney, Texas. “We love Conway. Coming back to Conway has been coming home to us,” he said. “We hope to spend the rest of our lives here.”

Donny is the chief creative officer at Lifeword in Conway and also the part-time spiritual life director at CBC. “He has a real heart for students and always has,” Terry said.


On Nov. 1, 1992, the Parrish family was “hanging out” at the Lifeword office when the accident occurred. Back then, Donny was the worship leader at Antioch Baptist Church in addition to working for Lifeword. The family lived in Bryant and would often spend Sunday afternoons at Lifeword between the morning and evening worship services.

Playing with her 3-year-old sister Samantha, Brittany found a balloon in the studio that she was going to blow up to play with. About 10 minutes later, Donny heard Datha screaming and Brittany was staggering down the hallway, unable to breathe.

“We tried everything.”

Paramedics arrived within five minutes. 

“They tried everything.”

Brittany was taken to Conway Regional and later transferred to Arkansas Children’s Hospital. Her brain had been deprived of oxygen and she was in a coma. She died two days later.


Donny described the 1,200 BMA churches scattered throughout the South “like family,” and many — including missionaries as far away as South America and the Phillipines — were touched by Brittany’s death. 

“The whole association grieved with us. It was a heartbreaking time for a lot of people — for our family and extended family.”

Donny returned to Antioch as worship leader three weeks after the accident. 

“I would lead worship and turn my back and cry, and they would cry with me . . . Everyone was so patient with me.”

In the weeks and months that followed the accident, it was difficult for Donny to focus.

“It was hard to function,” he said. “We’ll never be able to thank people for that . . . It’s been a journey. God has been faithful.”

Describing the accident as “weird,” “strange” and “unexpected,” Donny said it has been human nature to wonder why it happened, but they turned to their faith. “God lost his child. He loves us enough to give Jesus for us. He knows what it’s like to lose a child.”


For Donny and Datha, a day doesn’t go by that they don’t think of their daughter, who was outgoing and talented. Today she would be in her 30s. “In our minds, she’ll always be 11.”

“Brittany was a precious kid and a really sweet person,” Donny said. “She was involved in church and school.”

Samantha, 24, is a theatre arts major and will begin touring in September with the Dallas Children’s Theatre. 

“Her sister would be proud of her.”

Donny has shared Brittany’s story hundreds of times with many — from how difficult it was for the family to how God brought them through it. 

“God has used her life to impact a lot of people. A lot have come to Christ through her testimony,” he said. “God still uses it to touch people’s lives. God has used her story to give people hope.

“There is no secret formula and no one size fits all for grief and the loss of a child. We trust God. We obviously wish there’d been a different way. We have faith we’ll see Brittany again. She had placed her faith in Christ, and there will be a day of reunion and resurrection.

“Everybody is going to die. We have an appointment (with death) that we’re all going to keep . . . The key to life is knowing you’re ready to die and where you will live forever.”

Donny said a parent doesn’t “get over” the loss of a child but can learn to cope. For he and Datha, they had two children but now only have one. They won’t share those childhood moments — like softball games — or special occasions like walking her down the aisle at her wedding. Donny recalls the adjustment in riding in the family mini-van — he no longer would see his daughter when he looked in the rearview mirror. “Brittany wasn’t there anymore,” he said. “You have to build a new normal, and that’s hard, but God gives you the ability.”


With her father’s involvement in ministry, Brittany was familiar with Central Baptist College. “She always knew she wanted to go to CBC,” Donny said. “She knew CBC, and she loved CBC.”

Donny and Datha recently had an opportunity to see the memorial garden dedicated to Brittany and tour the new building. Donny pointed out that Brittany is one of many people honored and memorialized in the new building.

Donny and Datha are appreciative of Terry, the CBC board and faculty, many who were charter donors for the garden.

“We’re just honored they would do this in her memory,” Donny said. “I’m excited about the future of Central Baptist College. Terry Kimbrow has a vision to lead CBC to be one of the unique colleges in the state of Arkansas, where students can receive a world class education and people invest in your life spiritually.”

With the garden, Brittany will now be part of the culture at CBC. “That’s a blessing to think about. I miss her now more than I ever have.” 

Donny doesn’t want to forget the sound of her voice, how it felt to be hugged by her or her laughter. “Everybody else goes on with their life, but your world stops and you don’t want her little light to be forgotten,” he said. “That’s one reason it’s so very kind and nice that people would remember her 20 years after her passing. In our hearts, she’ll never be forgotten.”