Friday 10 July, 2020

Bajan centenarian celebrates milestone in the US

A small slice of Barbados went to Harford, Connecticut, USA, as family and friends celebrated the 100th birthday of Keziah Vanlair Beaumont Clarke on Christmas Day, 2019.

For the Christmas Day celebrations, Vanlair or ‘Ma Clarke’, as she is familiarly known, was visited by some of her grandchildren and great-grandchildren, who traveled from Barbados to celebrate the event and other Barbadians and members of the Hartford Connecticut community.

In addition, she received numerous congratulatory telephone calls from Barbados. 

She also received a commemorative wooden plaque in the shape of Barbados from the Barbados Government Information Service and the Ministry of People Empowerment and Elder Affairs, which was presented by her grandson, Director of the National Sports Council, Neil Murrell.

Pastor Agnes Dillion of the Full Gospel Interdenominational Church, of Manchester, Connecticut, who generally visits  Clarke once a month, administered prayers and expressed well wishes.

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It was noted during the proceedings that longevity runs in Clarke’s family, as her younger sister, Gioletta Murray, is 91 years and lives in New York, while her other sister, Undene Graham, who resides at Stewart Hill, St. John, is 98 years old. Well-known historian, Morris Greenidge, is a cousin.

During the toast on her birthday, Clarke stressed that “you should do the right thing and God will bring you out”.

Born to Samuel Aaron Hall (a fisherman) and Florence Hall nee Headley (a housewife) at Olive Lodge Road, Paynes Bay, St James, on December 25, 1919, Vanlair had eight other siblings. 

Her early education was at the St. John the Baptist Primary School and her early life surrounded raising livestock, baking and cooking, in addition to being around the sea.

She married Eric Clarke at 19 years old and that union produced five children, three of whom predeceased her.  Ma Clarke was raised in Paynes Bay, but after marriage moved to Fairfield Cross Road and Howells Cross Road, St Michael, before later moving back to Paynes Bay. 

She moved to Hartford, Connecticut in 2011, to live with her daughter Ophelia, after the death of her youngest daughter Judeane Ashby in 2010.

Clarke worked as a housewife during her marital union and was proficient at baking wedding cakes and cooking.  In the latter case, she would cook and give to needy persons in the neighbourhood and was known as a ‘boss’ at stirring cou cou.

Her daughter Ophelia Clarke describes her mother as a hearty eater, who was always singing and praising God.  She said the centenarian was a strict disciplinarian, who insisted that proper English be spoken in her house by her children.Clarke has 15 grandchildren, 28 great-grandchildren and 15 great-great-grandchildren.

 

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