Mary Edwards Lander Clark, mother, daughter, sister, aunt, and nationally-known advocate for the hearing-impaired and disabled, died August 24 at Loyola Hospital in Maywood, Illinois. A resident of Oak Park for nearly thirty years, Mary was a teacher, counselor, orator, humorist, educator, hostess at her big house on Forest Avenue---and loving mother to her children Lauren, Lindsay and Emily Clark. She loved her big inclusive family---children, siblings, parents, ALDA---and all of those who needed help.
Mary was born on Father’s Day, June 17, 1956 in Saginaw, Michigan. She gradually lost her hearing but developed interest in hearing solutions even as a high school student at Indian Hill High School in Cincinnati. She graduated from Hinsdale Central High School in 1974. In spite of her hearing loss, she had a unique ability to hear and replicate local color—a western dialect in Omaha or, of course, a classic Chicago accent. By 1990 she was totally deaf, but understood uniquely both the hearing and deaf cultures. She was proud of this dual citizenship and she was adept at reading both speech and body language.
Mary graduated from Ball State University in 1978 with a degree in Special Education. Additionally she studied at Gallaudet University in Washington D.C. where her ideas were influential in delivering services for the deaf.
Mary taught deaf kindergarteners at Mahalia Jackson Elementary School in Chicago in the 1970s and later high school students at the Whitney Young Magnet High School in the 1980s. More recently she taught ASL at Concordia College in River Forest.
Mary traveled the country to educate and empower newly deaf individuals who felt they had nowhere to turn. She was always helping and fighting for the hearing impaired, through the Village of Oak Park, her work with AT&T’s call centers, Illinois Hands and Voices, Hearing Loss LINK of Chicago and the Illinois State Legislature. She testified frequently at state and local hearings in support of the Americans with Disabilities Act and for many years she directed an advocacy agency, The Progress Center for Independent Living in Oak Park. She was named one of 100 Women Making a Difference by Today’s Chicago Woman Foundation in 1999.
She was immensely proud of her contributions to ALDA, the Association of Late Deafened Adults, and treasured the many close friends she met through her years of service. As one of the original members, Mary served as a two-time national president, spent many years on the board and was a long-time contributor to the ALDA News where her stories of raising a family and living with deafness were legendary. In 2005, Mary received ALDA’s highest honor, the I. King Jordan Distinguished Service Award.
She is survived by her daughters, Lauren Michelle Clark, Lindsay Anne Clark and Emily Elizabeth Clark of Chicago; her father, Lawrence Charles Lander of Camden, Maine; her sister Elizabeth Fox and husband John of Eugene, Oregon; and two brothers, John W. Lander of Portland, Oregon and Lawrence F. Lander and his wife Joyce of Houston, Texas. Additionally, she is survived by her nieces and nephews, Roan Fox, Aidan Fox and Caitlyn Fox of Eugene, Oregon and Lawrence P. Lander and Charles Lander—with whom she shared birthdays—of Austin, Texas.
Her aunt and uncle Cynthia and Richard Lawless of Phoenix, Arizona and aunt Eleanor Lander of Tucson, Arizona survive along with cousins, Cynthia Paup Crane of Grand Haven, Michigan, Cathy Paup Moore of Grand Rapids, Michigan, Edith Lander of Portland, Oregon, Elaine Lander Wing of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and David Lawless of Laguna Niguel, California.
Mary was predeceased by her mother, Carolyn Schultz Lander.
A joyful celebration of her life and service will be held Thursday, August 30, 2012 in Oak Park at the Drechsler, Brown & Williams Funeral Home with an open reception for her many friends and family beginning at 4:00 pm. A memorial service will follow immediately afterwards at 7:00 pm and be officiated by her long-time friend and fellow advocate, Father Joe Mulcrone.
Interment will be private at a later date.
In lieu of flowers, Mary’s family requests contributions to the Association of Late Deafened Adults (www.alda.org) or the charity of your choice.
Mary could "remember music" and on the last day of her life talked of Both Sides Now and American Pie—eclectic, wistful, hopeful and so very determined—all emblematic of Mary. Always---"music while the music lasts". She fought the good fight and kept faith that no obstacle was too hard to overcome as long as you have a big heart and maybe a spoonful of sugar. Her big smile and even her handle: ldmpoppins—late-deafened Mary Poppins—says it all. She saw the good in everyone—one last lesson for us all.