Elise Beatrice Harris Clarke: She never let anything stop her

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Elise Beatrice Harris Clarke

Elise Beatrice Harris Clarke, eldest and sole surviving child of the late Ethel Travers Harris and her husband, East Baltimore physician, Bernard Harris Sr., (for whom School #250 is named) transitioned to eternal life at her Pikesville home on Sunday, March 21, 2021, surrounded by her immediate and extended family. At the time of her transition, Mrs. Clarke was 99 years old.

Born on May 11, 1921 and raised in East Baltimore, she was baptized at the family church, Centennial Methodist Episcopal on August 7,1921. She later became an active member of the children’s choir, Sunday School and numerous other organizations at the church. As a young girl, she was a member of the MeDeSO Club, a local organization of physicians’ daughters.

Elise attended Frederick Douglass High School, from which she graduated in 1937. She continued her post-secondary education at Morgan State College (now University), majoring in Latin. In 1939, while attending Morgan, she was inducted into the Alpha Gamma chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Incorporated. She was also honored as the Sweetheart of Alpha Iota chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Incorporated.

At age twenty, after making a personal decision which was blessed by her parents, to convert to Catholicism, she joined the congregation of historic St. Francis Xavier Roman Catholic Church, located two blocks from the family home. In later years, her younger brothers, Robert and Dickie followed their sister’s path, becoming members of the Catholic faith and active members of St. Francis Xavier.

Soon after graduating from college, Elise pursued post-graduate studies in elementary education at Loyola University in Baltimore. She began a storied career as an elementary school teacher in the Baltimore City Public School System. Her first assignment was as a kindergarten through second grade teacher at Henry Highland Garnet Elementary School #103 where she remained until transferring to Edgewood Elementary School #67, from which she retired in 1981. While there, she became supervisor of student teachers as well as a demonstration teacher.

During her career as an educator, she taught thousands of youngsters, molding their tender minds, while her influence as a positive role model enabled them to understand themselves as well as to identify and expand their individual abilities. Her former students represent all walks of life and many of them credit her for the impact she had on their lives.

In 1943, Elise was joined in holy matrimony to her high school sweetheart, Jesse Benjamin Clarke Jr, who preceded her in death in 1963. He was the owner of the Clarke Printing Press Company which he inherited from his father. From this union, a daughter, Brenda Elise, was born.

The complete loss of sight in her left eye, when she was 30, did not deter her from fulfilling her obligations as educator, wife and mother. She maintained active membership in school, church, family and social activities. In 1997, when she became totally blind, she again demonstrated her strong faith in God and accepted her blindness by continuing daily activities with zest and purpose. Pursuant to becoming totally sightless, Elise enrolled in BISM, (Blind Industries and Services of Maryland) where she received training that enabled her to maintain her independence. She maneuvered her surroundings with confidence and pride, amazing everyone she knew.

As a devout Catholic, she was an unswerving practitioner of the Golden Rule, and believed you should treat everyone with dignity and respect. After moving to West Baltimore, she became a member of Immaculate Conception Catholic Church. In 1954, she and her family transferred their membership to St. Cecelia Roman Catholic Church where she remained a member until her death. Her involvement at St. Cecelia included membership in the Ladies of Charity, secretary of the church treasury and volunteering in the soup kitchen.

Mrs. Clarke enjoyed traveling to Europe, Mexico, Cape May, New Jersey; Myrtle Beach and Hilton Head, South Carolina. She especially enjoyed spending time at the family’s Magothy Beach summer vacation residence in Pasadena, Md. She was a member of the Baltimore chapter of the National Epicureans, Jack and Jill of America and the AGNNs. Her hobbies and pastimes included hosting holiday gatherings with friends and family, entertaining, cooking with her grandchildren, sewing, gardening and traveling to Broadway shows. During her retirement years, she spent countless hours as a volunteer at Liberty Medical Center, the former Provident Hospital.

Mrs. Clarke will be remembered for her strength, faith in God, perseverance, compassion, kindheartedness and being a loyal and faithful friend. She loved unconditionally and was loved by both young and old. In February 2020, Mrs. Clarke was invited to share her “Baltimore Story” at the CITY OF NEIGHBORHOODS-Black History Month event sponsored by Baltimore City and Johns Hopkins University. A short documentary featuring Elise was showcased. Her legacy will live on in the hearts and minds of all who were fortunate to have known her.

She was predeceased by siblings Bernardine Harris Harrison, Bernard Harris Jr., M.D., Robert Hiram Harris Sr., Anita Harris Watson, James R. “Dickie” Harris, Berkley White and nephew Robert Hiram Harris Jr. A loving companion, William E. Selby, who served as her “eyes” for many years, also preceded her in death.

She is survived by her daughter Brenda Elise Clarke Blount (Alford Laws Sr.); grandchildren Robert Eugene Blount Jr., Monica Blount Hart (Wayne), Jennifer Blount Lucas (Guy), great grandchildren, Jordan L., Jessica M., Kristopher C., Mason A. Hart, and Sophie Jada Duffie; a sister in-law, Mildred Smoot Harris, nephews Miles G. Harrison Jr., M.D. (Wanda), Barry K. Watson and Roland Dean, nieces Marilyn Harris-Davis (Michael),Beverly Hill Lomax, Pennsylvania; Virginia Cross, New Jersey; nephews Michael (Carol) Carter, New York, and Harold Carter, Florida; great niece Kia Harrison Wyatt(Amani), Georgia; great nephews Kyle Harrison(Meredith), Maxxwell (Julie) and Marrio Davis, and a host of other relatives, caregivers and friends.