Carnzu “Conny” Abbott Clark
Carnzu “Conny” Abbot Clark, civic activist, philanthropist, dedicated volunteer, lover of nature, music and art, avid reader, Unitarian, founding member of a number of local non-profit organizations, passed away on May 26, 2015, in Santa Barbara, California at the age of 100. A long-time resident of Santa Barbara, Conny was born on July 19, 1914.
A native of Boston and Newburyport, Massachusetts, Conny was the oldest daughter of George O. Clark, M.D. (a renowned surgeon) and Alice Carnzu Abbot Clark. Born into privilege, educated at the Winsor School in Boston and graduated Vassar College (B.A. in English in 1936, she devoted much of her life and resources to helping those less fortunate. Passionate about social justice, social services, mental health, access to education and opportunity, the arts and the natural world, Conny supported numerous causes with all her heart. A deeply modest woman who did not seek accolades, who saw giving to her community as a way to enrich her own life in addition to others, Conny was recognized numerous times for her service. She received the Anti-Defamation League’s “Distinguished Community Service Award” in 2001, received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the The Santa Barbara News Press, was named a Local Hero by The Independent of Santa Barbara, and received the Santa Barbara Foundation KEYT Woman of the Year Award. She was also honored by Planned Parenthood of Santa Barbara, the League of Women Voters, Democratic Women (Democratic Woman of the Year), UCSB (Affiliate of the Year), Girls Inc., and many others. These recognitions were very meaningful to Conny, as she often reflected back on her experiences, accomplishments and the varied influences on her life. She was a quiet woman who lived an extraordinary life.
Conny’s first job was with Time Magazine in New York City, where she earned $21 a week. She then worked for Felix Warburg in an unsuccessful effort to get Jewish children out of Europe before Hitler’s genocide took their lives. She worked for the firm Pictorial Statistics where she wrote a daily newspaper column. She was hired as a researcher for Republican U.S. Senator Robert M. La Follette, Jr. of Wisconsin, known as a champion of organized labor through his work as chairman of the senate investigating committee, commonly called the La Follette Civil Liberties Committee. Conny assisted in the Senator’s investigation of suspected widespread violations of field laborers’ rights. In the course of that work Conny made her first trip to Santa Barbara in 1939.
Upon returning to Washington she was hired by the Federal Security Agency (now HHS) to work on relieving the impact of war factories and military camps on U.S. communities. When the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRAA) was established, Conny transferred to that agency, serving in the welfare department selecting staff for missions abroad. As WWII was ending she was sent overseas and served in London, France, and then Germany, riding in on the back of a weapons carrier. She worked for the Displaced Persons Programs in the U.S. Zone of Germany. There she served as assistant to the woman who became her life partner, Gertrude “Gertie” Richman, then Deputy Director for Social Services in the U.S. Zone of Occupation.
Following her work with UNRAA, Conny returned to Maryland with Gertie and reentered government service. She was later fired from her government position because, in her words, they “decided I was a suspicious character”. She answered a newspaper ad looking for people with a liberal arts education and became a 6th grade social studies teacher – teaching by day and getting her credentials at night. Maryland schools were required to accept black students; faculty members were asked who would take them. Conny said she was happy to do so. She remembered that her students came from good backgrounds and were accepting of one another. She taught for nine years, and after taking a travel sabbatical with Gertie, her position was filled before her return. Conny and Gertie moved to Santa Barbara in the fall of 1967. They traveled extensively in retirement, observing and learning about other cultures: they visited Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya, Uganda, and the Sudan, as well as China, Japan, Burma, Papua New Guinea, Peru, Mexico, and other countries.
Conny was committed to increasing opportunities for people; her volunteer service and philanthropic efforts benefitted a variety of activities and causes, among them health services, social services, education, culture and the environment. Many local institutions recognized her efforts. She was involved with the Botanic Garden, The Art Museum, The Women’s Fund, Rape Crisis Shelter Services, Santa Barbara City College, The Santa Barbara Foundation, The Santa Barbara Symphony, Music Academy of the West, Santa Barbara Chamber Orchestra, Direct Relief, Santa Barbara History Museum, Community Arts, Healthcare for All, UCSB Music Affiliates, Douglas Preserve, the Fund for Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara Music Club, and others.
Conny was loved by many friends, young and old. She had a twinkle in her eyes, an infectious chuckle, droll sense of humor, was a faithful letter writer, and could also give an occasional disapproving look that spoke volumes of her opinion. She did not suffer fools. Conny is survived by a loving family: Nieces/Nephews: Joan Paddock Maxwell, Michele Clark Durkin, Thomas Abbot Clark, Diane Clark Chapman, Harriet Clark Sutin and Patricia Clark de Gramont. Great nieces/nephews: Elizabeth de Gramont Plummer, Charlotte Moseley Chapman, Diane de Gramont, Tara Sutin, Alexander Chapman, Alix Aure de Gramont, Alexandra Clark, Vanessa Clark and Lindsey Clark. Great grandniece: Margot Plummer. She appreciated the many kindnesses of the Vista del Monte staff.
Donations in her name may be made to the Scholarship Foundation of Santa Barbara, P.O. Box 3620, Santa Barbara, CA 93130, and to the Santa Barbara Music Club Scholarship Fund, P.O. Box 3974, Santa Barbara, CA, 93130.
Memorial Service Saturday June 6, 2015 10:30 AM Unitarian Church, 1535 Santa Barbara Street. Reception follows