Feb. 12, 2004
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and Dorothy Jane:
A love story
by LINDA MITCHELL
artist Camille Regli phoned me the other day with a terrific
love story, just in time for Valentine's Day. She said the Ferndale
Arts Cooperative would be hosting a special retirement party
on Feb. 14 for Warner and Dorothy Jane Clark, a couple who had
been involved in the gallery as a team for several years. Dorothy
was the artist -- a watercolor painter -- but Warner gallery-sat
for his wife on her assigned days because of her bad back.
Camille went on to say that
two years ago, Warner had been forced to arrange for Dorothy,
his wife of 52 years, to live in a nursing home, since he was
no longer able to care for her by himself. Dorothy continued
to paint at the nursing home, and Warner continued to gallery-sit
for her until a few weeks ago, when he got the flu and couldn't
seem to get his strength back. Camille said that Warner, now
91, had recently moved into the nursing home with his 84-year-old
wife, and the gallery wanted to honor the couple -- hence the
Valentine's Day party. [Photo
I arranged to visit the Clarks
at St. Luke Manor (recently renamed St. Luke Health Care and
Rehabilitation Center), a small hospital-like facility in a residential
neighborhood in Fortuna. Warner greeted me warmly at the door
to their room, but told me his wife wasn't quite ready for visitors
yet. He led me down a corridor to a sunny visitors' room, with
orchids and pansies in the windows. "We'll just give her
a little time," he said. Apparently Dorothy had been up
half the night counseling one of her young caregivers. "She's
a people person," Warner told me. "All the young girls
come in and talk over their problems with her."
I asked how he liked living
at St. Luke's. "It's not easy," he said. "But
I'm just so delighted we're together again." I asked how
he and Dorothy had met.
"Well, here's the story,"
Warren began. "We did a nonprofit peace thing, kind of like
the Peace Corps, in France and Germany after World War II. You
see, Dorothy Jane lost a fiancé, a Navy flyer, at the
beginning of the war. And then at the end of the war -- five
days before the end -- she lost another fiancé. That was
Colonel Elliot in General Patton's army -- he had her picture
with him when he died. It was a terrible shock for her. That
led to our many years of working together toward peace."
and Dorothy met shortly after the war ended, while working at
the Moral Re-Armament (MRA) Training Center in Mackinac Island,
Mich. He says it was love at first sight. "She was singing
in the International Chorus and I took one look at her and said,
`Wow! What a lady!'"
The couple married in 1951 and
continued their volunteer work with the MRA for another two decades.
Warner described the organization's mission as the "ideological
counterpart to the Marshall Plan," and says he was one of
about 30 officers hand-picked by General Marshall to work toward
reconstruction in Germany, France and Italy both during and after
the war. "We were to present the ideas of what freedom and
democracy were all about -- what we were fighting for
as well as what we were fighting against." Warner
says. "We tried to unite cultures."
[Photo at left:
The Clarks on their wedding day in 1951]
The couple worked with the MRA
around the world, as well as in the United States. "We worked
in race relations -- I worked with Martin Luther King Jr. before
he was famous," Warner told me. "Dorothy even met Mary
McLeod Bethune [founder of Bethune-Cookman College in Florida
and adviser to FDR on race relations]. We were invited to her
home because we wrote a musical about Mary called the Crowning
Experience and took it all over the country. The musical
had a tremendous effect of showing what black people could give
to society -- that doesn't seem like much today, but in those
days it was quite new."
When the Clarks retired from
the MRA, they settled in Tucson for a while, where Warner worked
as an accountant. His firm lost its most lucrative client in
1982, and Warner and Dorothy decided to sell their home and hit
the road. "We bought a used Airstream travel trailer for
an art studio on wheels, and an old Lincoln Continental sedan
to tow it," said Warner. "That's when Dorothy's art
career really took off."
The couple traveled to 27 states
and Dorothy painted them all, selling her watercolors in galleries
all over the country. Their travels ultimately led them to Humboldt
County, where they settled eight years ago. They lived in Fortuna
and Dorothy joined the Ferndale Arts Coop, where she and Warner
worked as a team. He has fond memories of his gallery-sitting
experiences, and showed me a short story he had written about
selling a small boy one of Dorothy's paintings of a cowboy for
5 dollars, "just so he'd have a hero to hang on his wall."
After we chatted for a while,
Warner led me back down the corridor to the room he shares with
Dorothy and introduced her as "his bride of 52 years."
She had lively blue eyes and a bright red cast on her left arm.
"I fell and broke my arm," she explained.
"It was no small thing,"
Warner added, holding Dorothy's hand. "She was in surgery
for two hours. I thought I might have lost her." Dorothy
Great Blue Heron, watercolor
by Dorothy Jane Clark
A young nurse handed Dorothy
her medicine. Warner said the medication she receives to control
her pain "would kill you or me," and they told me about
Dorothy's spina bifida, which has left her with debilitating
pain for much of her adult life.
I asked Dorothy how long she
had been painting. "All my life, one way or the other. When
I wasn't working, I was painting." She notes that many of
her watercolors were composites of photos Warner took for her.
I asked them what it was like, being married for 52 years.
Dorothy smiled. "We've
gone through some very deep chasms..." They look at each
other and laugh. "Oh, yeah. Oh, boy," Warner agrees,
"... but then we surfaced again," Dorothy continued.
"It was better after each surface, for having gone so deep
in the chasm."
I told her Warner said he fell
in love with her at first sight and asked if it was reciprocal.
"For me, it was love before first sight," she
said. "I saw a picture of him with his sister, and I was
very disappointed because I thought they were married. Isn't
that astounding that you can know, just from looking at a picture,
that that's IT?" She smiled at Warner. "Silly, isn't
Warner and Dorothy's Valentine's
Day party will take place from 2 to 4 p.m. at the Ferndale Arts
Cooperative, 580 Main St., Ferndale, on Feb. 14, and is open
to the public.
Linda Mitchell can be reached
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