FOR `BOOM BOX MAMA,' LOVE OF LIFE WAS ALWAYS NO. 1
 
HELEN UBINAS, Hartford Courant Staff Writer
Feb 15, 2004


(Each Sunday, "Extraordinary Life" looks back on
someone who died in the past month whose life made a
difference. Kathleen "Kathy" McCarthy Clark, 62, of
Willimantic, died Oct. 6.)

The line in Kathleen Clark's obituary, the one that
says she fought an outrageous battle with cancer, is
not a mistake.

"She was angry -- no, pissed off -- about dying," said
her daughter Annie Clark. She hated what the cancer
was doing to her body. She wanted to spend more time
with her six children and her grandchildren. Five
years earlier, a granddaughter had finally been born
into the large Clark clan. She wanted to lead a couple
of more Boom Box parades in Willimantic and sing some
more Irish ballads with friends in local pubs.

"She wanted to live," Annie Clark said.

And so, she decided to write her own obituary and do
what she had always done in life -- tell it like it is.

"When I met Kathy, I was a single mother trying to
figure out what I was going to do with my life," said
Mary Webb, who is one test away from being a social
worker. "But Kathy wasn't about to let me feel sorry
for myself. She helped me see what I needed to do to
succeed, and the rest was up to me."

"You never wondered where you stood with Kathy," her
friend Peg Kozin said. "She stood up for what she
believed in, and she made no apologies for it."

And more than anything, Kathleen Clark believed in
living life to the fullest. Her daughter recalled her
mother's helping her sister- in-law with cancer and
saying, "If this is what it's like to fight a
courageous battle, I want nothing to do with it," her
daughter said.

Of course, courage was instinctively part of Clark.
How else to explain the time she and her husband,
Owen "Tony" Clark, to whom she was married for 44
years, decided on a whim to move to Australia when
their oldest was just in kindergarten.

"It was quite an adventure," Annie Clark said. "It was
completely `Little House on the Prairie.'" That
adventure ended a year later, when Clark became
pregnant. But it certainly didn't mark the end of
Clark's enterprising spirit.

When the family moved to Florida, she and her husband,
a postal worker, became involved in local union
issues. Among the rights they fought for was allowing
postal workers to grow facial hair and wear shorts in
the oppressive heat. They won, and while Tony Clark
went about growing a beard, Kathy went about turning
some of his pants into shorts.

It was a while before the uniform company would have
the shorts ready. "But the first day those shorts were
allowed, my Dad was wearing them," Annie Clark said.

When they moved to Willimantic, Clark wasted no time
becoming involved in the community. Besides her job as
Section 8 coordinator for the public housing
department and her local activist work, she was best
known as the founder of the annual Boom Box Parade.

Not about to see the Fourth of July parade end in 1986
because there was no music (the Windham High School
band had disbanded), Clark approached local radio
station WILI-AM with a tape and proposition: Play
marching-band music over the air, and people would
carry boom boxes in the parade. She was convinced that
people would participate in such a parade. Of course,
no one had any reason to believe that, and when Wayne
Norman, radio host, drove by the formation area a
couple of hours before the parade was to start, it was
empty.

But Clark had faith, and the inaugural parade was a
hit.

"It received worldwide press because an Associated
Press writer got wind of it. I got feedback from all
over the country, heard from a local soldier stationed
in Korea and saw [myself] quoted in Spanish in a
Guatemalan newspaper," Norman said.

"It was so American. It was so Kathy. She had faith in
people, and her faith in people paid off," said her
friend Jean de Smet.

Kathleen Clark will long be remembered as the "Boom
Box Mama," friends said. The parade continues as an
annual event, but that is just one of the many
legacies she left behind.

"Her love was something that you never questioned,"
her friend Kozin said. "When she told you she loved
you, you believed it. You felt it. And in return, she
was most definitely loved back."

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