BY TONE DOWD
Former Assemblywoman Barbara Clark was laid to rest Monday morning, leaving behind one of the strongest and most influential political legacies in Southeast Queens.
The funeral was held at the Greater Allen A.M.E. Cathedral in Jamaica and attended by hundreds of political leaders, families, friends and constituents city and statewide. The service was held by Rev. Henry Simmons of the St. Albans Congregational Church.
Clark was born in Beckley, WV in 1939. After meeting her high school sweetheart, Thomas Clark in 1957, she moved to Cambria Heights in 1961.
She began her life as a public servant in 1987, when elected to the office of New York State Assembly representing the 33rd district, which includes Bellerose, Cambria Heights, Hollis and St. Albans. As the first woman elected to the position at the time, Clark brought a new perspective to the Albany as an assemblywoman.
“Assemblywoman Clark is a mentor to me,” New York City Public Advocate Letitia James said last week of the late public servant. “All those years, as you know, it was a ‘man’s zone.’ Barbara Clarke used to walk into meetings that were filled with nothing but men, and then say ‘what is this all about, you can’t have a meeting without a woman. […] Barbara Clark was not afraid to speak truth to power and to challenge anyone wherever she was.”
Those who attended the funeral remembered her for activism on many fronts, with education being one of her more prominent accomplishments. During her time in office, she was able to help turn the ailing Andrew Jackson High School into a prosperous set of magnet schools. She was instrumental as a key sponsor of the New York City School Governance Law mandating parental involvement in school budget, testing and standards decisions. She was also a support of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity legal battle, which after 13 years brought $5.5 billion to poor school districts.
“She and I were elected on the same ticket at the same time,” Rev. Floyd Flake said. “When she was elected, I was elected on that same day. We had been friends ever since. I applaud her commitment to the one thing that we shared together […], education. I was happy when she got a committee that allowed her to use her skills and talents to try to make us have the best possible schools that we can have for our children as they grow up and help us to have a community where people know that our young people could get chance to live their best life. She gave all of herself to that.”
Rev. Simmons seconded Flake’s comments, quoting an old Chinese proverb that Clark believed in.
“If you want prosperity for a year, plant grain,” he said. “If you prosperity for 10 years, plant a coconut tree. But if you want prosperity for a lifetime, plant another life. That’s what Barbara would say to us. You want to live beyond this day, then put something into another life.”
U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks shared a few words as well, recalling his race against her in 1998 for the seat he currently holds.
“She was the very first person to come over and congratulate me. All through that campaign she would talk to my wife. […] After the election she told my wife ‘I will do everything in my power to help you husband be successful. And she did just that. So I’ll end just as I began. Thank you God, […] for the life of Barbara Clark.”
Clark passed away from complications of cancer. At the time of her death she served 30 years as a New York State Assemblywoman. She leaves behind three children, two grandchildren, three siblings and her mother. She was 76 years old.
Reach Trone Dowd at (718) 357-7400 x123, firstname.lastname@example.org or @theloniusly.