Dead at 75, Carmen Clarke remembered as a source of inspiration for Jamaica's athletes

By December 22, 2022

Carmen Clarke’s sudden passing, mere days after her 75th birthday, sent shock waves throughout Jamaica’s sporting fraternity. Clarke lost her brief battle with cancer on December 17.

A regular fixture at track meets, swim meets and netball tournaments, many persons were curious as to who was this bald woman always immaculately attired, not realizing the giant she was behind the scenes.

For those who knew her, many of whom rank among Jamaica’s elite athletes, her death has left a gaping hole that can never be filled.

Carmen was born in Duckenfield, St Thomas, on November 26, 1947. She was the only child for her mother Myrtle Whynn, who took her to live in the United Kingdom when she was only 12 years old.

After more than a decade there during which she attended college, Carmen returned to Jamaica where she worked at the now defunct Daily News newspaper. However, her work was not limited to media as over time she became the public relations manager at Carreras Limited where she worked for many years before transitioning into entrepreneurship. She also contributed significantly to Jamaica AIDS Support and the church. Quite naturally, Carmen was also a member of the board of the National Sportsman and Sportswoman of the Year Awards. 

A stickler for discipline, Carmen was a no-nonsense woman who has been described by relatives and friends alike as fearless, humble, inspiring, brave, trustworthy and a good listener, all attributes suited for the role of ‘mother’ and mentor to many of Jamaica’s top athletes.

“Carmen will most definitely be missed,” said Juliet Campbell, who competed for Jamaica at the 1992, 1996, 2000 and 2004 Olympic Games.

“I know first-hand the impact that she has had on a lot of our superstar athletes. She has nurtured a lot, she has encouraged, she has been a part of teams. She has been a part of the athletic community for such a long time and she will be missed dearly.

“She was no-nonsense but she loved these kids.”

A list of the ‘kids’ reads like a who’s who in Jamaica’s track and field. Among them were Olympians Veronica Campbell-Brown, Merlene Ottey, Raymond Stewart, Danny McFarlane, Juliet Cuthbert, Usain Bolt, Juliet Campbell, Aleen Bailey, Elva Goulbourne-Rose, Asafa Powell, Michael Frater, Brigitte Foster-Hylton and many others.

Seven-time Carifta champion and 2004 Olympic relay gold medalist, Aleen Bailey, said she was thrown for a loop when she heard of Carmen’s passing, shared just how much of an influence she was.

“She was the Olivia Pope of Jamaica for us athletes, and not just Jamaican athletes, she has been a blessing in lives across the globe,” Bailey said.

“If you need anything fixed, advice, tough love, support or you need to get out of a tough situation, we call Aunty Carmen.

“My first encounter was when I made my first junior team. She was the one that taught us how to present ourselves when representing the country. She was also the reason we got to host World Juniors (2002).”

Bailey, a member of Jamaica’s gold-medal winning sprint-relay team at the Beijing Olympics, was a senior member in the Jamaican team in 2008 and was like a mother-figure to the many new stars like Shelly-Ann Fraser, Usain Bolt and Melaine Walker, helping keep things together when the lights shone brightly on the island's breakout talents.

However, it wasn’t always like that for her. There was a time during a global championship when she was the one in need of comfort and guidance and Carmen came to her aid.

 “I remember at the World Championships, some people were mean to me and I was hiding in my room and wasn't eating. Deon Hemmings was my roommate. She found Aunty Carmen and told her what was going on. She came to that hotel, barged into the room got me out of bed, made me shower and told me she will be picking me up every day.

“She was whatever we wanted her to be, she cooked for us, washed our clothes, hugs when we needed it. She always wanted the best for everyone she meets.”

Carmen’s influence was not limited to Jamaica’s track and field elite. She was also a tremendous influence on the women in Jamaica’s netball.

“You were the light of our lives. On behalf of the Sunshine Girls who you took under your wings, thanks Miss Carmen, Aunty Carmen as the ones from XLCR (Excelsior High School) called you,” Marva Bernard, past president of Netball Jamaica posted in a tribute on Facebook.

Former media worker and civil servant Gillian Haughton, who describes herself as Carmen’s sister-friend, in a post on Facebook shared just how much of an influence Carmen was to her son, swimmer Nicholas Haughton, a recent graduate of Howard University.

“Carmen Clarke always made the effort to attend Nick's swim meets. She made the extra effort to join us at his first CARIFTA Open Water Swim trials at Puerto Seco,” she posted about the relationship between her Campion College alum and Carmen.

“For the four years he went away for school, Carmen Clarke's apartment was his last stop before the airport so he could get his massage.”

It was perhaps former Jamaica shot put thrower Zara Northover’s Facebook post that best sums up who Carmen Clarke was and what she meant to so many.

 “Auntie Carmen Clarke.  You saw me at all times and encouraged me to pursue at all costs,” Northover said.

“You advocated for me in rooms I was not present and you prayed prayers I know God saw fit to answer.  You are loved, you are missed, you are love and light. Thank you for being a source of inspiration and comfort.  I love you and will never forget the impact you’ve had on my life and the countless others you’ve encountered. Rest in Heaven and thank you in advance for watching down on us all from up above.”

Carmen leaves behind brothers Lloyd and Linval Clarke as well as a sister, Beverley.

 

 

 

Leighton Levy

Leighton Levy is a journalist with 28 years’ experience covering crime, entertainment, and sports. He joined the staff at SportsMax.TV as a content editor two years ago and is enjoying the experience of developing sports content and new ideas. At SportsMax.tv he is pursuing his true passion - sports.

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