With gratitude for a full life but with the heaviest of hearts, the family of Mr. John Howard Clarke mourns the loss of our beloved husband of 47 years, father, father-in law, and grandfather. He departed this world on January 2, 2021, in Boston, Massachusetts. He was born on March 29, 1947, at French Hospital, New York, to his loving parents, the late Frank Howard Clarke, a WWII Veteran, and the late Johnnie Mae Moore Clarke, a devoted homemaker. He attended P.S 188 Elementary School in Manhattan. His family was devoted to faith and he was baptized Catholic and confirmed at St. Mark's Episcopal Church in Manhattan. He also served as an altar boy and was a dedicated Boy Scout. He attended Junior High School 22 in Manhattan. He excelled at sports such as football and was very studious. He served as the President of the GEO (General Organization) at his high school, Seward Park High School, and was a proud graduate of that school. He attended Lincoln University and while still a young student, heard the call to uplift his fellow citizens during the Civil Rights Movement. He was a member of SNCC-the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee. During this dangerous time he went to Mississippi to aid in voter registration through non-violent means and the desegregation of public spaces. He, like many others, faced death threats but he continued on with courage. He later transferred to Friends World College and during his time as a student he studied at their only international branch in Africa, East Africa, Kenya, to continue to pursue a love of knowledge. He later moved to Tanzania where with his fluency in Swahili, he worked and established lifelong connections and met his soulmate Mrs. Nelly Clarke. They married in August, 1973, in Tanzania, surrounded by loved ones and well wishers. After travelling and visiting family and friends in Scandinavia and Europe, they returned to the United States. Mr.Clarke worked for the state of Vermont and through his work there opened the first farmer’s market in 1977. At the opening there was a ribbon cutting ceremony at which the Governor of Vermont attended. He went on to teach at Franconia College in New Hampshire, and when Franconia College closed was transferred to what was then known as New Hampshire College, in Manchester, New Hampshire. He continued to teach at New Hampshire College while also pursuing a Master’s Degree at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. After completing his Master’s Degree, he enrolled in the doctoral program and the family moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts. He was an exceptional student and a teaching fellow, with one of his Harvard professors remarking at that time that Mr. Clarke was one of the best students he had the opportunity to teach in his 50 years at the university. He later served as the Assistant Principal at what was then called the Agassiz Elementary School, now called the Maria L. Baldwin School. He often tirelessly drove his six children to a wide range of extracurricular activities everyday; everything from football practice, to baseball practice, to soccer practice, to dance lessons, and to music lessons. He worked to ensure that each of his children received a college education. He attended the Episcopal Divinity School and was active in the ministry of Christ Church in Cambridge by serving to provide meals to the homeless in the community. His devout faith was also evident in the work he did at Kings Chapel, Boston, Massachusetts. Though he faced health challenges later on in his life, it did not stop him from being a loving husband, father, grandfather, and friend. He found a loving and welcoming community at St. Paul’s Parish, in Cambridge, MA, where he had on special occasions the opportunity to joyfully serve during mass. He loved to laugh, read, and welcomed into his heart all from every corner of the globe. We will miss the warmth of his smile, the radiance of his laughter, and the brilliance of his intellect. He leaves to cherish his life and memory his wife of 47 years Nelly Clarke; his children Sayeeda, Steven, Mae, Frank, Lucy, Nancy and Elizabeth; his grandchildren Solomon, Miriam, Olivia, Amina, Tumaini, Miles, and Kimmee; his daughter and son in laws; his brothers Henry and Vernon, and sister in laws; his nieces Verna, Ayana, and Lauren; and numerous extended family members and cherished friends. His late brother Thomas and his late grandparents Frank and Claire Clarke departed this earth before him. The family wishes to thank Keefe Funeral Home for their kind care and compassion during this time. A private funeral service will be held on Saturday, January 16, at St. Paul's Parish, Cambridge, MA, with the laying to eternal rest to follow at Cambridge Cemetery, Cambridge, MA. When gatherings are safe, we will have a Celebration of Life.
Eulogy John Howard Clarke
St. Paul’s Church Cambridge, MA, 02138
Saturday, January 16, 2021
John Howard Clarke . . . three names fora very complex human being. It never cease sto amaze me how incredibly complicated we all are and the multitude of influences that shape us: ancestors, education, money, illness, love, loss, pain, faith,family,parents, siblings –such a long, maybe infinitely long, list of items which create a person.Where to begin with Dad? Nelusigwe Taim Mwakatungila, Uuknyakyusa, Jamaica, The Carolinas, The Lower East Side, race, segregation, Johnnie Mae Moore, Aunt Claudia,struggles to end segregation and colonialism,to name just a few people and issues that made Dad . . . Dadembraced complexity, reveled in it, and encouraged us to immerse ourselves in the marvelous mysteriousness of life. In typical Dad fashion, he never explicitly or directly told us to do this;instead, he helped us discover curiosity on our own. Dad almost never answered a question directly, but instead, encouraged us to find the answer ourselves. To say he despised television is an understatement, hence my siblings and I growing up watching little TV and almost all of it on PBS. I can hear him now telling Nancy or Lucy to look up a word in the dictionary. Dad almost never spoke about himself–the vast majority of my knowledge about our father came from our Mother and his other relatives and friends, and the stories were the stuff of an Indiana Jones movie: travel throughout the planet in a time when it was quite rare for a poor African-American man to visit far flung places like Sudan, Mexico, Morocco, and Israel, freedom rides in the South, FBI interrogations, the Ku Klux Klan almost tossing him off a bridge or shooting at him in Alabama, teaching in East Africa,an encounter with a traditional healer in Tanzania that ended with him fleeing into the bush, motorcycle accidents in Mbeya, and of course marrying his soulmate at the foot of the Living stone mountains in Southwest Tanzania. These tales and countless more confirmed what we observed living and growing up with Dad –he was fearless but not careless and had a deep respect for knowledge and exploring the unknown and loved living life to the fullest while fighting injustice. He had so much he could have complained about, including racism, his Parents’ divorce, and money problems –you name it, and yet he never did. I have no idea how one becomes so positive and selfless but respect and admired that about Dad and strive to emulate that in my own life. Dad also challenged us intellectually all the time –we debated everything from hip hop, to the use of non-violent tactics in the civil rights movement, to his own wardrobe! Dad, just did not care much for anything material, including his clothing,and had a style all his own ranging from cut off jeans he made himself to his legendary Harvard sweatshirt beneath a blazer, of course, all to the great consternation of is kids. More on Dad’s disregard for money or material goods, some of my fondest childhood memories include jump starting our ‘green bomber’ on a regular basis with Dad and Mae on our way to school in the morning –I am quite certain he propelled that car like Fred Flintstone did his, with his bare feet, as there were portions of the green bomber‘s floor I could see thru –like I said, Dad did not care for money or material things! He was the smartest, most well-read human being we knew but never made us feel dumb or as if our ideas, no matter how inexperienced or less read we were than he, didn’t matter. He eventually came around on hip hop, even listening to it himself, maybe not necessarily because Frank convinced him it was indeed like jazz, a revolutionary and powerful new art form, but probably because our own mother became a big Tupac fan.
Dad knew and always reminded us that life is fragile, unpredictable, and short but also sacred, amazing, and precious –not just for those with power and money but for everyone, and would give the shirt off his back to anybody in need and never stopped to think twice about helping someone else. He was fiercely loyal and committed to my mother and us, and was always there for us, in good times and bad. He taught us how to love each other unconditionally, work as a team and always bet here for each other. I can barely keep up with my own daughter and don’t’ know how he and Mom did so with six of us, including the legendary, Hurricane Elizabeth! He relentlessly encouraged us to look away from the TV and smartphone screens and all of the other distractions of modern life and enjoy and appreciate the moment and our fellow human beings, especially those in need. Next time you pass someone on the street, or on the train, try to see thru the simple boxes of class, race, and gender we often categorize and reduce other people into and make a connection that opens you to the deeper complexities of that person –were you to pass my Dad in Harvard, Central, or Porter Squares in Cambridge you would never know about his remarkable life by his appearance but only by spending time and speaking with him, which he would do all the time with anyone.
So, our father was a black, Jamaican, African, Irish, Native American, husband, Dad, Grandfather, son, brother, philosopher, educator, and civil rights activist, who would do anything for his beloved wife and family and loved life deeply. But he was also so much more than any of these categories suggest, and while obituaries, eulogies, resumes, and stories all help us understand aspects of a person, we are blessed to have spent so much time with Dad which helped us better understand and appreciate the depths of his love for us, his grandkids and life. John Howard Clarke –may you rest in peace eternally.