Willardine "Clem" Taylor 


Until a few days ago, I'd never been to a funeral on Christmas Eve. The very idea seemed a bit macabre, but it was a memorial service I couldn't miss. Willardine "Clem" Taylor had died on Dec. 20, and friends and family were gathering together at 10 a.m. on Dec. 24.

Mrs. Clem, as she was known to many, was not a member of my family nor could I call her a close personal friend, but she always felt like both. This woman was the very model of a warm, compassionate and funny human being. She was trim and energetic and always wore sunglasses to alleviate her migraine headaches. There in the funeral-home chapel an assortment of people — none of us knew each other — came to remember her in spite of last-minute shopping and holiday chaos. We all stepped into a quiet room to pay homage to the lady who for years took pride in her job as "dining room manager" and made McDonald's in Carytown a cut above the rest.

Mrs. Clem's memorial service gave new meaning to the phrase "celebration of life." I've heard those words said as dirges played and noses honked and faces drooped, and they didn't make a bit of sense. Here, they did.

After some prayers were offered, we were asked if anyone had any "expressions" to offer Mrs. Clem's daughter Darlene and her children. At first, people were shy. Then a lady stood up and told the family how much Clem had loved them. More silence. Another woman, dressed in a cheerful Santa sweater, stood to tell about how her two boys loved going to McDonald's to see Mrs. Clem. Every year they had visited her at McDonald's on Christmas Eve. Later, both of her sons, age 14 and 11, bravely rose to speak — one told of Clem's kindness while the other sweetly proclaimed her "a one-in-a-million lady."

Soon memories of Mrs. Clem came pouring out. Someone else spoke of the fun she'd had at Clem's weekly bingo games at McDonald's — she organized them especially for older adults. Her co-workers at Bliley's' Augusta Avenue branch where she'd worked for the last couple of years spoke of her humor. Throughout, we all laughed, we nodded in recognition and remembered the tiny things she did — cleaning up a spilled drink, sneaking us an extra Happy Meal toy or a coupon for a free cheeseburger. She sympathized with young, harried mothers, told us she loved us and frequently said with utmost sincerity, "You are beautiful." Her love of others had made a profound impact on us all, and we were encouraged to go back out into the world and do the kind of good Clem did. In the end, an elderly gentlemen raised his hand and said simply, "I have three words to say: I loved Clem." Well said.

Later that afternoon, in a moment of madness, I ventured into Toys "R" Us to look for one more gift. I had perused the shelves and was headed toward the door when I noticed a little girl in tears standing near the Barbie aisle. I guessed that she was lost. After helping her find her parents, I wondered why I'd bothered to take the time. I think I did it because that's what Mrs. Clem would have done. And I thank her for the example she set. Reflecting on her life made this year's Christmas Eve one of my nicest ever.

Elizabeth Cogar wrote about Mrs. Clem and the Carytown McDonald's in a July 1997 Style Weekly cover story.


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