Mary Edwards Lander Clark, 56, died on Aug. 24, 2012, at Loyola Hospital in Maywood. A nationally-known advocate for the hearing-impaired and disabled, she was a resident of Oak Park for nearly 30 years. A teacher, counselor, orator, humorist, educator, and hostess at her big house on Forest Avenue, she loved her big inclusive family — children, siblings, parents, ALDA — and all of those who needed help.
Born on Father's Day, June 17, 1956 in Saginaw, Mich., she developed an 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 own 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.
Ms. Clark graduated from Ball State University in 1978 with a degree in special education. She also studied at Gallaudet University in Washington D.C. where her ideas were influential in delivering services for the deaf. She 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 University in River Forest.
She 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.
Immensely proud of her contributions to ALDA, the Association of Late Deafened Adults, she treasured the many close friends she met through her years of service. As one of the original members, she served as a two-time national president, spent many years on the board and was a longtime contributor to the ALDA News, where her stories of raising a family and living with deafness were legendary. In 2005, she received ALDA's highest honor, the I. King Jordan Distinguished Service Award.
She 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 her. She was always "music while the music lasts," 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.
Mary Clark is survived by her daughters, Lauren Michelle, Lindsay Anne and Emily Elizabeth; her father, Lawrence Charles Lander; her sister, Elizabeth Fox and husband John; her two brothers, John W. and Lawrence F. Lander and his wife Joyce; her nieces and nephews, Roan Fox, Aidan Fox and Caitlyn Fox and Lawrence P. and Charles Lander—with whom she shared birthdays; her aunts and uncle, Cynthia and Richard Lawless and Eleanor Lander; and her cousins, Cynthia Paup Crane, Cathy Paup Moore, Edith Lander, Elaine Lander Wing, and David Lawless. She was preceded in death by her mother, Carolyn Schultz Lander.
A celebration of her life and service will be held on Thursday, Aug. 30 in Oak Park at the Drechsler, Brown & Williams Funeral Home with an open reception for her many friends and family beginning at 4 p.m. A memorial service will follow immediately afterwards at 7 p.m., officiated by her longtime 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.