Late Assemblywoman Barbara Clark honored at Jamaica church before hundreds

By Madina Toure

At the funeral for late state Assemblywoman Barbara Clark (D-Queens Village), her daughter said she had a long battle with cancer but did not suffer as she continued working and fighting for her constituents.

More than 500 people—including relatives, elected officials and prominent southeast Queens leaders—gathered Monday morning at the Greater Allen AME Cathedral in Jamaica to pay tribute to Clark, who served the area for nearly three decades.

Clark, who died Feb. 22 at the age of 76, had represented the 33rd Assembly District since 1987. The district includes Cambria Heights, St. Albans, Queens Village, Hollis and Bellerose.

Crystal Clark, Barbara’s daughter, said her mother would have wanted her to let everyone in the congregation know about her health to comfort them.

Clark said her mother was “strong to the very end with virtually no pain and no suffering,” drawing applause from the large crowd.

Her mother did not want people to know about her illness, but she was doing well and wanted to do her job as a lawmaker, her daughter said.

“It’s a blessing to grow up in a house where your parents are your heroes,” Clark said. “We did not want her to go, but we have peace in that she left the way she wanted to leave.”

More than 30 members of Clark’s congregation, the St. Albans Congregational Church, along with southeast Queens residents, roughly 16 community and civic leaders—including Leroy Gadsden, president of the NAACP’s Jamaica chapter—and elected officials such as state Sen. Leroy Comrie (D-Hollis) and state Assemblywoman Alicia Hyndman (D-Jamaica) were in the crowd. Clark’s family and relatives sat in the front row.

A number of leaders and elected officials from other parts of the borough and the city also attended.

Clark is known for her role in converting Andrew Jackson High School into four small magnet high schools, supporting a lawsuit that resulted in a $5.5 billion increase in funding for city schools and bringing significant improvements to the Queens Village and Hollis LIRR stations.

U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-Jamaica) moved the crowd with a speech in which he noted that although Clark took good care of her children and made sure they succeeded, that was not enough for her.

She had to make sure other children had the same opportunities, too, he said, noting her passion for education and healthcare.

“We’re all here with very heavy hearts this morning and I was going over things in my mind and two words came to my mind… thank you,” Meeks said. “First, I thank God for the life of Barbara, and then I thank the Clark family for sharing her with us.”

Rev. Floyd Flake, Greater Allen AME Cathedral’s pastor, said Clark did a lot of work for the community.

“She and I were elected on the same ticket at the same time… and we have been friends ever since,” said Flake, a former congressman. “I applaud her commitment to the one thing we shared together: education.”

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx) commended her commitment and kindness and said she would be missed in the Assembly community, describing her as a mother figure.

“I remember the day I was elected speaker and Barbara stopped in front of me and she gave me that look that only a mother can give and she said to me, ‘I’m proud to call you speaker,’” Heastie said.

Clark is survived by her husband, Thomas Clark, Jr. and three of her four children, Crystal, Thomas III and Brian. Their eldest daughter, Jan, died of cancer in May 2015. They also have two grandchildren, Taylor and Lauren.

Clark is also survived by her mother, Ada DeBerry; three remaining siblings, Gloria, Jacqueline and Pamela; her daughter-in-law, Leslie Clark; and nieces, nephews, cousins and friends.

The interment took place at Maple Grove Cemetery in Kew Gardens.

Reach reporter Madina Toure by e-mail at mtoure@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4566.

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