Missing Ms. Clark

It's just starting to sink in that I'll never see Rebecca Clark again.  The last I saw her was just before the holidays, and she was as strong and firm and loving as always.  I'm glad that's my last memory but regret that I didn't know her better and never followed up on my intention to take her out for lunch to just talk. 

I bet that lots of you have Ms. Clark stories and wonder if you would share them...

[Note: Long-time community activist and anchor Rebecca Clark passed away this weekend. (N&O 1/6/09) -Ed.]



One night this past year, Ms. Clark was in Council Chambers, I never did know what item she was there for.  She sat in her seat on the aisle, on the left, about halfway down, for hours.  I can't stay in my seat for more than 10 minutes without getting up to wander around so I was just in awe of her patience and ability to be calm and just sit and wait.  I knew when she got up to speak she would let Council have it, so the calm was a physical calm, not a political calm.Linda Convissor

Back when Howard Lee was running for Lt. Governor in 1974, absentee ballots had to be notarized. Rebecca was Lincoln Precinct Democratic chair that year, and one of her tasks was making sure that shut-ins voted. Since I was a notary, Rebecca called me to come with her when she visited each house with an elderly disabled voter. I went with her to one house off Cameron Avenue, the voter was in a hospital bed hooked up to oxygen. I handed the voter her ballot, and the voter said "This is wonderful, the last vote in my life and I can help Howard be Lt. Governor." Without a wait of a heartbeat, Rebecca announced "No, its not your last vote, you have to vote in the second primary." A week before the second primary, I called Rebecca to see if we needed to make that followup visit to that voter as Howard faced Jimmy Green in the runoff.  Rebecca simply said "Hate to tell you this, but she died the day after the first primary."

I would suggest that the council honor her with at least a resolution, or  perhaps name the seat where she sat as Linda describes above.  As many people have said, Rebecca was never shy, to me anyway, about telling me her opinion when something was not fair.  And most of the time she was right on! 

Rebecca's son John Clark just called me, here are the arrangements:Friday 1/9/2009 11 am - 1 pm. Viewing, Chapel Hill Bible Church, 260 Erwin Rd, Chapel Hill http://www.biblechurch.org/Friday 1/9/2009 1 pm Funeral Service, Chapel Hill Bible Church, 260 Erwin Rd, Chapel Hill Friday 1/9/2009 Burial, Chapel Hill Memorial Cemetery, across 15-501 (Fordham Blvd) near the Bible Church http://www.townofchapelhill.org/index.asp?NID=253Friday 1/9/2009, repast for out of town visitors, Hargraves Center, 216 N Roberson St,  following burial. 

At Rebecca's wonderful 90th birthday party at the Sheraton, three things produced lasting memories.  First, her remarks reflecting on her time in the community fighting up-hill battles and speaking truth to power.  Second was the many present and former community leaders who all explained how hard it was to try to say "no" to something Rebecca told them that they  had to do.  Third was her grandson explaining what it was like to grow up as her grandson in a community that was filled with people who considered themselves extended family.  As he said, he could never get away with anything because there were always eyes on him, including the ones in the back of his grandmother's head. In all of the comments, the theme was community and her influence on making it a better one.  We all owe her a great debt.

I had the great fortune to interview her many times. It was always a conversation more than a Q&A. The last time was on Nov. 5, 2008 and she described how she'd shooed everyone out and watched the returns alone so she could fuss at the television uninterrupted. She talked about registering voters and her perceptions of what turned the tide in NC for Obama was as sharp as anything I'd read. Asked how that Wednesday was treating her she replied "Best day I've had in a long time." I think she left this world with a satisfied mind.kmr  

Did anyone record an oral history interview with Ms. Clark?  Or videotape any testimonials at her 90th birthday party?  If not, these stories are all we have to remember her by. 

Someone with the UNC library was wise enough to record and preserve it. You can find it in Davis' Documenting the American South collection right here http://docsouth.unc.edu/sohp/K-0536/menu.html.

Good for them.  I'm told that two other people photographed and recorded Ms. Clark in recent years.   It's quite possible her children did also.  Maybe her voice will be heard at the memorial service on Thursday.  - c.  

She was so much a part of the community I can't remember NOT knowing Rebecca Clark, though I don't think we were ever introduced; we just KNEW each other. One day several years ago while I still worked at the Chapel Hill News, one of us had called the other for help we needed on something and she could hear that I wasn't feeling well. She asked what was wrong and I told her about my tummy troubles. She lit up and said, "Why girl, I know just what you need and I'll give you one if you want!" "What's that, Ms. Clark?" I answered."You need an ENema!" she announced gleefully.People in the newsroom jumped from my howling laughter and it was a few years before I could see her without imagining her in her nurse's cap chasing after me with a full bag! I've been kicking myself all week that I didn't find time a few weeks ago at the Seymour Center, or in October at the Chapel Hill Museum to have a conversation with her. We just don't know when our last chance to talk to someone will come; but we were lucky to know her and our town was lucky to have held her so long.  valarie 

Mrs. Clark was a faithful and core member of the town's Personnel Appeals Committee, which hears employee grievances and which I have chaired the last few times it has convened.    She was compassionate, just, and held people accountable for their behavior.    She called it like she saw it, and people listened when she spoke.  I really liked her and I wish I had known her better.  

Doug Clark used to tell me that his Mom was VERY embarassed by the name of his band, and would NEVER say "Doug Clark and the Hot Nuts", but always referred to them as "Doug Clark and His Band".  The band has been playing for over 50 years now, led by son John since Doug's passing in 2002.

I've enjoyed reading everyone's comments here. Thanks for posting.

Way back in about 1998 Susan Simone did a photographic history of the UNC housekeepers struggle and another of the history of Northside.  Some of her photos from that work are still on display at the Midway Business Center, including a nice one of Doug senior.   I think the town of Chapel Hill may also have purchased one or two, although I don't know if they are currently on view.Simone was a frequent visitor to the Clark home at that time, so I just did a search on the UNC oral history archives - but they don't include an interview with Rebecca Clark, a shame.  I'll ask Simone if there is any other extant material she might still be able to share. = Tofu Dave

I loved Rebecca Clark. I'm sure I reflect the thoughts of many people in our community when I say that. There will never--ever--be another Rebecca Clark. It's impossible to even imagine the number of people she touched over the course of her 93 years. A portion of those folks were in attendance at her memorial service on Friday, but rest assured there were many others who couldn't attend. Many, of course, are no longer with us. I'm enjoying reading these recollections that people have involving Rebecca. Personally, I know that, for many years, when the phone rang and it was Rebecca, I had better answer it. She either had something she wanted to tell me about, and hoped I would get it on the air...or wanted to blast me about something I WASN'T doing, or something i said that she didn't agree with..either way, it was Rebecca calling and the whole world stopped for a little while. She was a matriarch in the truest sense of the word, but i love that whole family, since the first time I met Doug back in the late 70's. To John and all the other family and friends Rebecca leaves behind: It was a life well-lived. We were all lucky to have her with us for so long. I'm proud I had a chance to know her. Rebecca made this community a better place in which to live, and she will always be with us!


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