John Archibald (Archie) Smith was the activist, the organizer, the go-getter who chauffeured government leaders on weekdays, led PTA meetings on weeknights and come Saturday evening was down at Sparrow's Point straightening out last minute details for the night's big-band dance.
His wife Lorena was the devoted full-time mother and homemaker whose every activity involved her children, for a mother's community service was limited to what could be done at home. And so she would sit at the wheel of a sewing machine, the sequins and sashes for yet another school play passing under her needle.
Fifty years later, Jeannine Smith Clark remembers her parents Archie and Lorena with affection. Her mother and father raised seven daughters in Northwest Washington in the 1930s and '40s. And although they were busy with making a living and a good home, each, in different ways, took time to share and to be both concerned citizens and involved parents.
This month Clark, 55, is being honored by the D.C. Federation of Civic Associations for being the same way.
She has been named the District's Mother of the Year, a woman who over the years has voluntarily taught, guided, led and organized in more than a dozen nonprofit, community and political groups including the Washington Urban League and the United Way. The consummate volunteer, Clark labored outside her home without pay 30 years before "working mothers" became popular.
In the meantime, she raised three children, all now physicians, who credit part of their successes to learning firsthand from her about sharing and the value of hard work.
Clark says it is a lesson she learned from both her parents, but she credits her brand of always-on-the-go activism to her father. "I don't ever remember making a single costume, even though my children were in plays," she recalled. "I guess I went outside of the home to do for my kids."
After years of working in or with District public schools--as a Dunbar High School teacher, PTA officer and outspoken parent--Clark ran unsuccessfully for the Ward 4 School Board seat in 1971. Meanwhile, she was a precinct captain in local elections, a YWCA membership campaign leader, benefit director for the Museum of African Art and a volunteer docent at the Smithsonian Institution, guiding and lecturing visitors through the African Hall for 10 years. Clark currently sits on the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics.
Mementos of Clark's commitment and activism dot the living room of the lavish home she shares with her husband, Dr. Charles Howell Clark, in the Crestwood community of Northwest: letters of recognition, presidential commendations, photos of her with first ladies.
Seated in a high-back chair before a window, she speaks so hurriedly that the soft black curls that frame her round face bounce on her shoulders.
Clark majored in German and English at Howard University and earned a master's degree in African studies. She loves to talk and does so on a wide range of topics, including her favorite piece of music, Ravel's "Bolero," the state of the economy--which she doesn't think can be blamed totally on the Reagan administration--and busing school children, about which she has personal reservations.
"For me it was all neighborhood," Clarks says of growing up on "the hill" in Northwest's Columbia Heights/Upper Cardozo community where everything a family needed was close by. "I never had to get in a car to visit friends, go to school or go to church. But for our own children it was just the opposite."
Clark is a fifth generation Washingtonian and has seen changes in the city that parallel those in her own life but also reflect differences that separate her generation from her parents'.
Clark, who was raised by a homebound mother and live-in grandmother, said she spent a lot of time outside her own home while her children were growing up. And her children were on the go as well, attending a variety of public and private schools that necessitated early morning car or bus rides and involved friends and activities far beyond the boundaries of their own neighborhood.
When she talks of family and of her children--twins Charles Jr. and Jeannine, 28, and John, 26--it seems that many of what she considers her most important undertakings are things that many mothers would do.
Dissatisfied with changes in the nearby schools 20 years ago, Clark organized a parents group and ran a chartered bus service for their children. Early every morning she was outside, rushing the youngsters to their seats and readying them for the ride to a public school in Southwest that she and the parents preferred because, she said, it vigorously stressed the three Rs.
In the early '60s, she was among those who picketed Glen Echo Park, which was still segregated at that time, because "my children couldn't go."
Clark's three children remember their parents as always being on the go but say they didn't suffer because of it. "We were acutely aware that both of our parents were working very hard," Charles Clark Jr. explained, "but working hard is second-nature if you're doing something you like." That was a lesson learned early in the Clark home. Besides, he added, "Baby-sitters would meet us at the door at three but Mom was home by 3:30."
Clark says she once considered limiting her schedule, which often required more time than an eight-hour work day, "but I never stopped doing. I just loved doing."
And yet, Clark--the teacher and volunteer, political candidate and political appointee, doctor's wife, linguist, world traveler and community activist--admits she has some regrets.
She looks down dotingly at the toddler she calls "puddin' cake" who is tugging at her dress.
"My favorite role is being his grandmother," she says, hugging 2-year-old Christopher Clark Jeffries, her daughter Jeannine's son, around her knees. "Throughout my children's development I was out of the house. It really bothers me that I don't have the time to spend with him."