Dateline: December 2, 2004


Shirley Jean McAbee Clifford – the first woman to be mayor of Clarendon – died last Wednesday, November 24. She was 69.

Services were held Saturday in the First United Methodist Church with former pastor Rev. Terry Tamplen officiating. Burial followed in Citizens Cemetery with arrangements by Robertson Funeral Directors.

Clifford was praised during the memorial for her friendliness and her service to her community.

“Even though we all knew Shirley in many ways, we all knew her as a friend,” Tamplen said.

She was born November 17, 1935, in Memphis to Mr. and Mrs. Ode McAbee. She moved during her early childhood to Childress, where she was raised by her grandparents, Mr. and Mrs. Benjamin Paul Thigpen. She attended school for seven years at the River Camp School north of Childress, she graduated from Childress High School, and she enrolled in Clarendon College in the fall of 1953.

She met Jack Clifford during her first semester at CC, and they were married six months later on March 28, 1954, in Hereford. Shirley continued her schooling in 1958 and 1959 in Germany at the University of Heidelberg while Jack served in the US Army.

The couple returned to Clarendon in 1959, where Jack was raised, and took over the family grocery business. The Clifford family owned and operated The Grocery Store, a long time mainstay of downtown Clarendon, until its closure in 1998.

Clifford worked a number of odd jobs at City Hall and a local furniture store before turning her attention to raising her three children – Virginia, John, and Benjamin. When the children began school, she assisted in the family business, utilizing her cooking skills taught to her by her grandmother at a very early age.

“Her grandmother had had stroke when Shirley was in the sixth grade,” Jack recalled, “and while lying in bed she would tell Shirley how to cook. She was a great cook.”

Clifford was an avid reader; and when she saw the need for a permanent dwelling for the city library, she ran for the Board of Aldermen, winning handily and becoming the first woman to serve on that board.

After two terms as alderman, Clifford made history again in 1981 by being elected as Clarendon’s first woman mayor, running on the platform, “Clarendon – Athens of the Panhandle, and we don’t even have a library.”

During her administration, two buildings on Kearney Street were obtained, remodeled, and furnished to house the Burton Memorial Library. This was accomplished through donations and the tireless efforts of patrons and many interested parties.

“She was the smartest person I’ve ever known and read everything there is to read in the way of classical literature,” Jack said. “And she knew more about books than anybody you would ever meet. She ran for office because she felt that Clarendon had to have a library.”

Clifford was a member of the First United Methodist Church and was involved in many aspects of the church’s operation. She taught elementary Sunday school and also organized the Christmas pageants at the church for many years. She hand-stitched all the pageant costumes using her excellent sewing abilities.

She was a member of the 1929 Book Club of Clarendon, and she had earned her pilot’s license alongside her best friend, Anton Riggs.

Survivors include her husband, Jack of Clarendon; one daughter, Virginia Ann Patten and husband Briton of Clarendon; two sons, John Walter Clifford of Ft. Worth and Benjamin Paul Clifford of Little Rock, Ark.; two granddaughters, Abigail Michelle Patten and Annie Marie Patten of Clarendon; two grandsons, John Ray Clifford and Robert James Clifford of Ft. Worth; and one sister, Carol Cary of Leoti, Kansas.

The family suggests memorials be made to the Burton Memorial Library, PO Box 783, Clarendon, TX 79226.

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