Mary Michelle Clarke
May 31, 1978 – October 15, 2019
Mary Michelle Clarke Mother, Wife, Sister, Daughter, Auntie, Friend
I’ve always been afraid of paying homage to those who have gone before. While inclination and expectation both demand any depiction of the dead be presented in a soft and gentle light, it seems to me disingenuous to lavish praise on the fallible and imperfect, to mute the blemishes, share only the happy memories, forgetting the moments of impropriety, overlooking the deficits, absolving, in an instant, past harms.
Perhaps because it is what we want for ourselves, the living choose to remember the good, the kind, the pure. For some, we struggle at this attempt. For others, the work is nearly effortless. These words are for a woman on the far end of the latter.
Mary Michelle Dowdakin spent her childhood years in the suburbs of south San Jose. The third child of Becky and Tom, Mary and her siblings, Michael, Lisa, and Patrick, had the good fortune to be born into a loving home where their father’s work as an architect ensured they were well provided for, but the poor providence of growing up in the 1980’s which, if the family Christmas pictures of those years is an accurate measure, meant she was perpetually badly dressed. While we will never be sure if the style and sense of fashion she so elegantly exuded as a woman was in direct response to those formidable years, we can be confident they played a strong role.
When not busy dressing their kids in knee highs and bows, the Dowdakin’s would pile their four young ones into Tom’s station wagon and noisily make their way to snowy Lake Tahoe, where they all learned to ski on the bunny hills of Homewood.
In the summer, it was back into the wagon for the quick, windy jaunt over to Santa Cruz, where the kids played with their dad in the sand and dipped their toes in the icy water as Becky looked on, offering an occasional, “Tom!!”
These experiences left an indelible impression on Mary, who ever after would love the open air of the mountains on her skin, and warm sand between her toes. But she also loved 1980’s movies starring John Candy, so we must be mindful of the full range of her tastes.
When she was 20, Mary took a job with her big sister at Kinko’s, the local copy center, where she further tested the limits of her interests by succumbing to the overtures of a pencil thin mustache and the young man upon whom it sat.
While Lisa offered her best defense, Mary was soon enamored with Cire and their names quickly became one. Whether it was in San Jose’s Japantown, Fort Collins, Colorado Cheyenne, Wyoming, Vandenburg, where their gifted, funny, and beautiful daughter Sienna would enter their little family, or Fayetteville, Georgia, it was always, for the next 21 years, Mary and Cire.
Mary Clarke knew how to do a great many things well. She knew how to be a strong woman. She knew how to be a loving, supportive partner. She knew how to care for a man in need. She knew how to raise a child and shape a young woman.
She knew how to sew and how to cook. She knew how to fold and how to tie a knot. She knew how to study and how to assign things a home. She knew how to paint and how to measure. She knew about colors and shapes. And she understood what many have forgotten, but the ancients knew: that humans divine meaning from symbols and that symbols are guides on our journey.
Mary was a true practitioner of her skills, always at work on a new project. Never satisfied, yet ever passionate, she crafted designs from wood, rope, and metal that quickly became known as quintessentially “Mary.” From messenger bags to clutches, inspirational signs to family mottos, many are the fortunate recipients of Mary originals, each, like their maker, a one of a kind.
For a season she would craft signage which charted the homes of a young family—a heart signifying each new member. Taking what she had learned, Mary would then enter a new phase in her work. A Sunburst! An Arrow! A Chevron! An Arch!
With each new piece, her strength as an artist and designer grew.
Those who believe in destiny and fate might say Mary had no choice but to follow her passion.
Those that favor free will would say she read each book, studied each picture, hung each work of art, made every sign, placed every basket, painted every wall, and framed each photo, whether of her beloved daughter or compassionate husband, or one meant simply to evoke calm in a space, with absolute intention.
In both instances, the result is the same. Mary used her talents, cultivated over the course of her life, for one single master work: her home.
But what good is a home, with its shapes and colors and symbols, if it cannot be felt and seen and used? If it is not filled with the thrum of beating hearts? Mary knew this, too.
When not homeschooling, Mary and Sienna might be seen at the local pool or field, where the young Clarke, a near perfect composite of her parents, with the confidence of her father and humor of her mother, first discovered her love of soccer. Soon, Cire would be coaching Sienna’s team as Mary looked on with pride and began forging friendships with the other moms on the sidelines.
It was on the soccer field that the Clarke family flame burned brightest. Sienna quickly took to the sport, releasing her energies and showing her talents with each mile she ran and every goal she scored. Cire slipped easily into the role of coach and motivational yeller, as Mary watched and told her new people, a group of caring women she would soon lovingly call her tribe, the story of her family.
The home she had so carefully and lovingly fashioned soon filled with the sounds and smells and sights of friends coming and going. This mom picking up Sienna for school or practice, that one dropping her daughter for a sleepover, staying for a glass of wine, and talking about life’s most serious matters.
Mary and her sister, Lisa, had a bond unlike any in the life of either. More a lifelong conversation, it was rare that the two would go more than a few days without catching up on any one of the myriad of their favorite topics. From the goings-on of Sonny, Luke, and Laura, to the inner machinations of their growing families, the sisters discussed it all.
The refrain, “did you talk to Mary, today?” was heard nightly at Lisa’s table, where the Clarke family update was regularly shared.
In their 30’s the pair found travel to be a new way to deepen their connection. The two might be seen holding an oversized cup as they walked through the humid streets of New Orleans, moving among the aisles of Portland’s vintage shops, or looking up at the skyscrapers of Manhattan, laughing, their eyes in a haze.
And it was laughter they most often shared. As they traveled back and forth across the country to see each other, they could often be heard cackling for days on end. Mary always saved a high whining trill for her sister, which she only released when they would reminisce about their mom, causing Lisa to erupt.
From the times Lisa charged her younger sister to borrow her clothes, to life on a deck in the hills of Oregon, the two gave each other something most wish they could have: absolute freedom to be the self.
The pair were never more themselves as when they were together.
Whether it was talking about politics or finances, sharing stories over a mug of cider or glass of wine, or laughing at her quirky humor, Mary was just an easy human to be around.
And that is what I’ll miss most, her ease and the inspired feelings that came with that sense.
Mary stays with us now, as she was on her happiest and strongest days: forever young.
She reminds us of all we can do: forever a fighter.
She lives in us now, the collective mind: forever loved.
Each time we think of her, we will remember a moment in our own life. A moment when we were younger and clung tighter to the bonds of the world. Back to a time when we had a friend who pushed against all of the randomness of the cosmos to find us.
Mary Michelle Dowdakin Clarke: A friend we will never forget. A daughter who remains our child. A sister who will forever be loved. A wife who will always be there to read the notes. A mom to live for.
As glasses are raised, from coast to coast and from beach to mountain, we send all of our love to a woman who gave us so much of hers.
Fare you well, Mary, the next toast is for you.
- Visitation Saturday, October 19, 2019
Mary Michelle Clarke
October 21, 2019
Many moons ago we met amongst our military service and for the few and many moments we shared together I was blessed to meet your amazing wife. You are an amazing father an friend my prayers are with you and yours...
October 16, 2019
Cire and Sienna,
We send our deepest sympathies and prayers. Mary had the most beautiful smile, she will missed. Our love to you both....
Jeff, Michele and Jack Glazier
October 16, 2019
Cire and Sienna,
We are all so saddened and feeling at a loss of words for you right now. Mary was an amazing and talented woman with the best smile and laugh. She will be missed so much and thought of often. Our thoughts and prayers are with you both.
All our love,
Chris and Lisa Garmendia