Grace Clarke of Lawrenceville, NJ (10 years), (Pennington, NJ, 30 years; NYC, 55+ years) died of natural causes on April 5, 2020 at age 96. This was three weeks after the passing of her identical twin sister, nursing-home-roommate Stella Stewart and three days shy of their 97th birthday. She is survived by and predeceased by many loving family and friends listed below.
We regret the delay in sharing this obituary, a delay that stemmed in part from our preoccupation with the COVID-19 pandemic and shut down, and our deeply grieving and divided world. Our deepest sorrow was not to be allowed to visit, share meals with or comfort Grace and Stella in person or hold either of their hands as they departed. A memorial will have to await safer times.
Grace was a life-long Presbyterian, generous to a fault, non-materialistic, scientifically minded, lover of biology, highly pragmatic, project organizer, family storyteller and inveterate traveler (U.S. and some abroad). She was polite to everyone, an avid gardener and an unsentimental but deeply caring Scot/Brit.
She would understand (but quietly regret) that her body was unable to be donated to science during this COVID-19 pandemic. More than that, Grace would be baffled by people defying scientific advice or even denying the pandemic’s existence. She would be upset but would never show it. She would just “soldier on” and find something productive to do.
Whenever we, her two nieces and nephew, visited Grace throughout her life, she would put us to work on one of her school, church or home projects — stuffing envelopes, filling baskets, planting the garden or clearing the yard. She never rested, she just fell into a nap occasionally from exhaustion. The last five years of her life she saw it as her purpose to take care of her sister, Stella, who was sicker than she. After Stella died, Grace said, “my work is done.” Stella passed away with Grace at her side and Grace passed away with Stella watching from above.
As children, Grace shared her love of nature as we walked the Long Island shore with her identifying living and washed up sea creatures or we ventured inland to woods, ponds and fields where she could name all the flora and fauna. Now, whenever we are in nature, we can still hear Grace identifying the owl hooting overhead, the approaching bird or a little creature scurrying by.
We miss Grace and Stella’s wise advice. Most strongly influenced by her maternal Scottish roots Grace would often say, “The best laid schemes o' mice an' men / Gang aft agley.” (by Robert Burns in his 1785 Scots poems “To a Mouse”). Or, next to their dining table was a plaque of The Selkirk Grace also by Burns, “Some hae meat and canna eat, and some wad eat that want it; but we hae meat and we can eat, sae let the Lord be thankit.”
Grace and Stella were born in 1923 in NYC where their parents settled after immigrating from Europe — their mother, a lady’s maid from Scotland and their father a butler from England. They lived with their parents and older brother, A. Roger, in a modest “railroad flat” on 69th Street close to the Hunter schools where they attended K through college. Like her twin, Grace’s central lifelong passions took shape there: devotion to the Presbyterian church (Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church in NYC [MAPC] for her first 50+ years and Pennington Presbyterian Church in NJ for the rest of her life); love of education; service to others; devotion to family; and love of science. Grace and her twin were a wonderful pair — smart, curious, generous, humble, honest and skilled. They were surrounded by friends their whole life and respected by all who knew them. Grace was the organizer par excellence, both as a teacher and in the church. Grace was also the first woman deacon of MAPC.
The whole family spent each summer by the ocean on Long Island, NY in the “butler’s” cottage on the estate of their father’s employer. There, the ocean got into Grace’s blood and she developed her love of nature (particularly birds), biology and gardening. The twins were very athletic; they swam, fished, played tennis and did other sports.
Their mother Mary, a strong Scottish woman, was a role model for the whole family. Mary never graduated high school, but was determined that her children would get an education. Grace and her twin (the first women in the family to go to college) attended Hunter College where they made many life-long friends. As a team they were Hunter College badminton champions. Grace majored in biology and had successful careers as a research biologist, a biology teacher, a guidance counselor and a vice-principal of guidance.
During WWII, while serving as a researcher, Grace tested the impact of radiation on mice as part of the Manhattan project, the purpose of her research unbeknownst to her and her colleagues at the time. During the early 1950s she decided to pursue a Master’s in Education which lead her to teaching biology, the profession she most loved. For most of her 38-year educational career, she taught at Long Island City High School in Queens with an incredibly diverse student body of first-generation immigrants. She was devoted to her school and fond of telling people how many languages were spoken there. Although proud of her own heritage, Grace had hoped her recent DNA test would have shown a more mixed ancestry — one she thought most humans possessed and whose revelation could lead to greater tolerance.
Grace was adventurous. Every summer she and several friends would pile into her car for a month-long road trip across the United States. They traversed the country exploring almost every state and national park with their AAA triptychs in hand.
Having no children of her own, Grace was devoted to us — her brother’s kids — and to her cousin’s children, taking us all on adventures around NYC or near the Long Island cottage. She introduced us to ocean swimming, horseshoe crabs, cooking lobsters on the beach and clam bakes.
When Grace retired, she relocated to her sister’s wonderful historic home in Harbourton, NJ where she lived with Stella and her husband Aubrey, a good friend Marjorie, and other friends and family members over the years. Set on 11-acres, there was plenty of cleared land for Grace to plant an ample, ever-expanding vegetable garden.
Although Grace was fond of saying “if she had it to do over, she would have loved to be a farmer’s wife,” it was hard to picture this smart, independent woman in that role.
She joined Stella and Aubrey’s church, the Pennington Presbyterian Church and quickly became an invaluable member of the church family. With boundless energy, Grace served on many committees. Grace organized members of the congregation to make meals for the homeless, to help mount the church’s well-attended fall harvest festival, to collect bicycles for a village in Africa, to build an irrigation project in Jamaica, and on and on. Fellow church members were fond of saying, “No one ever said no to Grace.” But, to Grace, work was play and “in her DNA.”
Grace is survived by: her cousin Fred Clarke & family of TX; her brother’s children Randall Clarke of CO, Jordan Clarke (Valerie) of NJ & his daughter Chelsea (fiancé Ryan) of CA/NY and Holly Clarke of NYC; her nephew in-law Russell Lidman (Raven Clarke Lidman d.) of WA and their children Hannah Lidman Schiovitz (Dan) & sons Ezra & Elias, and Shane Lidman (Lisa) & son Max; her cousin’s children Betsy Yost Schlossman (Marty d.) of KS & family, Mady Gach (Dick d.) of NY & family, and Peter Yost (Kathy) & family of VA; other relatives from Scotland to American Samoa and many extended family and friends.
Grace was predeceased by her twin sister Stella, her brother A. Roger Clarke of NY (1st wife Gay, 2nd wife Jeannette), A. Roger’s daughter Raven Clarke Lidman of WA, her cousins Betty Yost (George) of FL and Peggy Grant of NJ, and her closest friend Marjorie Winchester of NJ.
In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to Pennington Presbyterian Church (https://pennpres.org/online-giving/).