A WOMAN WHO CHANGED THE WORLD
Jean Clark, who died on June 24th at the age of 95, was known as the “Mother of Recycling” in recognition of her diligence and effectiveness in pioneering the Montclair recycling program in the 1970s, one of the first recycling centers in the country. She used her academic training and innate intelligence to shepherd key environmental legislation to passage, and became a repository of knowledge about the environmental movement in New Jersey.
She received many awards: “Recycler of the Year” from the National Recycling Congress (1980), “Recycler of the Decade” (1980) from the NJ Dept. Of Energy and Environmental Protection, the New Jersey Pride Award in the field of Environment (1986), and the Wells College Alumnae Association Award, (2000), and more. Groups she was part of were often more effective than flashy, such as the Essex County Solid Waste Advisory Council.
She graduated from Wells College in Aurora, New York in 1945, and had an M.A. in Philosophy from Mt. Holyoke College. She championed women’s colleges, but made an adjustment to her worldview when men were admitted at Wells College a few years ago.
Her single-minded devotion sometimes made her an inadvertent pioneer. In 1970, the New Jersey Audubon Society felt there should be at least one woman on the Board, so they made Jean the Secretary, “someone to take the notes,” she said. Being the only woman in a room full of men did not faze Jean, and she was soon joined on the Board by other women and served for over thirty years.
Jean was also active in the Montclair Bird Club, the Montclair Organizations for Conservation, the Association of New Jersey Recyclers, the Montclair Nature Center, the Montclair Hawk Watch, and the League of Women Voters. Before turning her full attention to environmental matters, she worked as the assistant to the Montclair architect Alfonso Alvarez.
Every day, she sat in her breakfast room and scanned her back yard. She knew every squirrel, every visiting bird and mouse, plant and tree. When a bird flew into her window and fell unconscious to the porch roof below, or a cat deposited a dead bird on her porch, she mourned. Her connection to the natural world was as intimate and real as other peoples’ connections to family.
She claimed to be an atheist, but, when pressed, said, “I’m a pantheist.” She saw the order of the universe in nature. In New Jersey or her beloved Adirondack Mountains, she chronicled the natural world. On an African safari, she took professional quality photographs that she presented to numerous groups, from the Montclair Bird Club to the Museum of Natural History in New York.
She was a patron of the New Jersey Symphony and chamber music groups. She herself played the recorder.
Jean was daughter of Guy Gayler Clark and Annie Anderson Clark. She was born at 326 North Mountain Avenue, across from the park her grandfather, C. W. Anderson, donated to the community. After her father’s death, she and her mother moved to Seneca Place. Except for her college years, she never lived outside of Montclair. She often paired in civic service with her sister, the late Beatrice (Betty) Evans, and the name of her late brother, Guy, is inscribed on Montclair’s memorial obelisk at Edgemont Park. He died while serving in the Army in the Second World War.
Jean never married, but was a valued aunt, showing clear-eyed generosity and compassion to her niece and nephews Ann, John, and Norris Evans, and their families. They feted her on Mother’s Day.
In a speech at Wells College in 2000, when she was honored as the Alumna of the Year, she cited Rachel Carson and the first picture of the earth from space as her inspirations. “That picture was—and is—a compelling call to action.” She reminded others that “bringing about change takes a lot of time, persistence, and patience,” and that being a volunteer was useful because “your motives are not suspect…and it’s also harder to get rid of you.”
Jean lived a unique and rich life, and her passing marks the disappearance of one of a kind.
A memorial service will be announced at a later date.
Donations to her favored charities in Jean’s memory would be welcome: New Jersey Audubon Society, The New Jersey Symphony, and Wells College.