Dorothy Adams Clarke, October 17, 1918 - April 11, 2010

A memorial service for Dorothy was held on May 8, 2010 and delivered by Rev. Diane Rollert.

There is so much to say about Dorothy. How can I capture all that she was to each of us? 

She was born here in Montreal. The daughter of an architect, she grew up in the downtown core. She was one of four children, sister to George, Margaret, and Ken. Her family originally hailed from Scotland -- Brechin near Dundee, of the Gordon clan, to be exact.  She was always proud of her Scottish heritage and would chuckle when her friend Barbara Jackson would call her a “doughty Scott.”

Dorothy was only 21 when she married.  Nancy Marelli, archivist at Concordia University shares this history:

“Dorothy Adams Clarke had links to Sir George Williams, later Concordia University, through her entire adult life.

“She met Douglass Burns Clarke in the 1930s.  A native Montrealer, he was a graduate of Hart House and he was also in the first graduating class of Sir George Williams – the Guinea Pigs.  He taught drama at Sir George.  They were both part of a Sir George Williams production of Othello in 1938, during which they became engaged.  He went on to a long and illustrious career at Sir George Williams until his retirement in 1969.  Dorothy raised their children, Hugh and Barbara, returning to part-time studies at Sir George beginning in the 1940s.  [She had sat in on Douglass’s classes, but he insisted that she take them again for credit.]  She completed her degree in the same 1964 class as her daughter. 

“It was indeed a “family affair” – Dorothy’s brother, Ken Adams, was a student, a teacher an employee, and ultimately the Registrar.  And there are other family connections as well!

“Dorothy and Douglass were an integral part of the Sir George “family” all through his terms as Registrar, Vice-Principal-Academic and his final stint as Acting Principal and Vice-Chancellor.”

Nancy got to know Dorothy “after Douglass’s death in 1979.  She and Norman Manson came to the Concordia Archives one day looking for help with their tasks as the archivists of the Unitarian Church….”  Nancy writes:

“Dorothy quietly and graciously insinuated herself, not only in our archives, but in our hearts, where she steadfastly remains… Dorothy was the most quietly engaging person I think I have ever met,” Nancy continues.  “She just grew on you!  We all loved her dearly and she was a welcome visitor – always a source of good humour and occasional goodies.”

A few years ago when I was preparing for the commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the fire, Dorothy shared with me her memories of that time.  She remembered arriving at the church at 9 a.m. the morning after the fire, only to discover that Nancy had arrived before her.  “Everything was sopping wet and virtually destroyed,” she said.  These were treasures and papers dating back to the 1840s, many the only artefacts and documents that told the history of the first Unitarians in Canada and in Montreal – a priceless and irreplaceable collection that could have been lost forever.

“But Nancy knew exactly what to do,” Dorothy told me with pride.  “She called the headquarters of Steinberg’s grocery stores. All the wet documents were taken to the deep freezers at Steinberg’s and flash frozen.  All the communion silver and other treasures were taken to Berks, who restored everything free of charge.  The amazing thing was how much the people of this city pitched in to help us after the fire,” she said.

That day as we spoke, Dorothy expressed her heartfelt thanks to Nancy, as well as Christine, Natalie, and Vincent, the archivists at Concordia, who taught her so much about what it took to tend to a precious collection of documents and who gave countless hours to restore our archives. And of course, it was thanks to Dorothy that, a few years later, the plans for the new church building included a dedicated space for archives.

Dorothy was proud of all that she had done here. I always thought she was a bit bemused that she had been asked to be president of the board.  After all, that had been her husband Douglass’s role before her.  Yet I think she really found herself in the presidency and in the many other volunteer roles she played at the church.

One of the stories she loved to tell me was about her time on the ministerial search committee that found my predecessor, Ray Drennan.  One Sunday, Dorothy and Campbell Laing drove south of the border to hear a potential ministerial candidate preach.  “Why are you going to the States?” the border guard asked.  Dorothy would always laugh as she repeated the punch line, “Campbell answered, ‘We’re going to church!’ and then of course we laughed all the way to the service.”  

Every time I saw Dorothy, even in her last days, she’d smile and shake her finger at me, and say, “Now don’t you work too much.  You take care of yourself.”   That was Dorothy.  Always caring about everyone else.

In the last months of her life, Dorothy made a brave decision to discontinue her medication.  “I’ve had a good life,” she told me.  “I sat by the Queen Mother in England and she patted me on the knee said to me, ‘Life doesn’t get better than this.’ I got to have dinner with Agatha Christie (Mrs. Mallowen, of course, to those at the dinner table).  I have no regrets.  I’m ready to go.”

She made it clear that there would be no persuading her otherwise.  She had already shared with friends that when her time came, she would gracefully let go.  Yet death did not cooperate with Dorothy’s plans.  She wanted so much to simply go to sleep one night and never wake up again, and it was a great frustration to her when this didn’t happen.

I admired Dorothy for her clarity and her courage.  Yet something kept her alive long after she or her doctor had expected.  She was surrounded by a caring staff who did all they could to encourage her to reclaim the life that she still had.  Some days it worked, other days it did not. 

Dorothy taught us that death, like birth, when left to its natural process, has its own time schedule that none of us can predict.  We can accept and embrace the inevitable, yet we have little control over the details. Despite her frustrated desire to leave, I think that Dorothy managed to live with dignity to the end and with a real spark of determination to be her own master.  She graced us with small smiles, with gentle squeezes of the hand, and softly spoken phone calls.  “I want to prove that humanity is stronger,” she told me.

The last day I saw Dorothy, she was peacefully asleep, a bit of a smile just showing at the corners of her mouth.  That is how I will remember her, as she wanted to be: Released to slumber forever.

In her final instructions, she had written this message:

“I’ve had a marvelous life with more ‘ups’ than ‘downs’. I’ve had a close family including all my in-laws.  Good friends – who could ask for more?”