The Fairfield Wives

Dr. John Parkinson, a civic and religious leader in the perfectly suburban town of Fairfield, told women they needed pelvic exams. Long exams. Several times a week. For years. And they believed him.

Atkinson never went to see Parkin-son again.
Instead, she called the Medical Board of California and left a message on the complaint line. Then she made an appointment with B. Gale Wilson, one of the most powerful men in Fairfield. At the time, Wilson was stake president, the highest-ranking local official in the Mormon Church. He was also Fairfield's city manager, and had been for years. A street in town bears his name.

It was the first time Atkinson had ever gone to the stake president with a problem. He ushered her into an office in the church building, very formal looking, like it could easily be in a downtown law firm. Atkinson took a seat in one of the two or three chairs set ready for those who come to confer on matters of the soul and the world. Wilson sat behind a desk. Atkinson shared her concerns about Dr. Parkinson.

Wilson is unavailable to discuss what happened inside the office. Atkinson says he told her he would take care of things with Parkinson, and asked her not to report it to the medical board.

"He [Wilson] said, 'It will never happen again. Don't file anything. It would embarrass the church,' " Atkinson recalls.

The instructions were easy to follow. The Medical Board's investigator didn't call back to follow up on the matter for weeks. When he did call, Atkinson simply said she didn't want to pursue a complaint.

It wasn't over.
As time passed in Fairfield, Atkinson's husband was called into various positions in the church. By now, he was one of the bishop's two counselors. Some time after Atkinson stopped seeing Parkinson, she was talking with a neighbor friend, who was pregnant and had a sore throat. She said the bishop had sent her to see Dr. Parkinson.

"Parkinson had her up in the stirrups," Atkinson said. "I didn't want anything to happen to her baby."

Atkinson went to see the bishop, who also lived in her neighborhood, and told him her story about Parkinson. He was stunned. That night, the doctor called her house. Parkinson, she remembers, told them in no uncertain terms that he would not stand for her running around town making these accusations, that he could sue them, and that their church membership might be in jeopardy if she did not stop talking about him. (In court, Parkinson has repeatedly denied ever threatening anyone's church membership.)

Shortly thereafter, the bishop was at their door.
"I could tell he was scared," Atkinson remembers. "He said he'd gotten a phone call, and that we were just going to drop it."

In 1981, John Parkinson replaced Wilson as stake president in Fairfield. Kem Atkinson's husband was relieved of his calling in the bishopric. The Atkinsons continued to be active in the church, but it wasn't quite the same. There were idle comments and joking references about Kem Atkinson being the town maverick. No one came to help them when they moved to another house in Fairfield. They slowly became invisible.

"My home teacher [a church officer who gives family guidance] told me that the Lord was unhappy with me because I was speaking evil against the Lord's anointed," Atkinson remembers.

A couple of years later, after another job transfer, the Atkinson family moved to Indiana. From there, they moved to Granite Bay. Kem Atkinson never was involved with John Parkinson again, until the afternoon, many years later, that an investigator for the Medical Board of California called to ask her a few questions about the doctor in Fairfield.

Through his attorney, Parkinson refused to be interviewed for this story. But public records provide some background information about him: Parkinson was raised in Idaho, the son of divorced parents who each remarried, giving their son an extended family that included five siblings. He graduated from the University of Utah in 1956, and continued there to complete medical school. Parkinson had wanted to be a doctor for as long as he could remember.

After medical school, Parkinson entered the United States Air Force as a captain, and was stationed at Travis Air Force Base in Fairfield. Four years later, he left the Air Force, but not Fairfield. For one reason or another, a burgeoning group of Mormon professionals was beginning to build a community there.

Parkinson set up his practice in 1962. By then he and his wife, MaryLynn, had already started a family that would grow to include nine children and three foster children. Tragedy struck that same year, when Parkinson's 5-year-old son died of cancer. Two other sons suffered from schizophrenia.

Parkinson's practice grew with the town. He and a handful of others, like his good friend and officemate Louis Madsen Jr., a dentist who'd also come out of Travis, became unofficial city fathers, leaders in church and community.

They invested both financially and socially in the development of Solano County, and reaped great reward. After three decades, virtually everyone in Fairfield knew John Parkinson in some way or another. Most knew him as a quiet, pudgy, balding man who was generous with his time and kind to people in need. He seemed to treat every patient who came his way. He rose to stake president -- the highest local position in the church -- and served for a decade, before stepping down in 1991.

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