GWENNELLE BELINDA CLARK
1950 to 2020
The “C” stood for Clark
Gwennelle Belinda Clark—a loving mother who devoted her life to her only child and prized science and education—passed away at age 70 of a post-surgical infection and heart failure at Wake Medical Center, in Raleigh, NC, on June 12, 2020, her adored son Charles at her side.
It was a running joke among those who knew Gwennelle that the “C” in QVC stood for Clark. If she had one vice, it was the home shopping network, QVC. She did, on occasion, let slip a racy expletive, followed by her legendary chuckle. She rarely drank alcohol, other than something sweet, a wine cooler, maybe, or some Kahlua. Did her conversation linger a bit too often on her son? Of course. Charles was her “pride and joy” and she never hesitated to let you know it.
Her brothers called her “Law”
The first of three children, Gwennelle Belinda Clark was born Feb. 20, 1950, in Southern Pines, NC, to Ernest Thomas Clark, Sr., a tradesman and educator, and Nellie Clark, a math teacher. The Clarks schooled their children early on the importance of education, something that fostered Gwennelle’s dream of becoming a doctor. Ernest and Henry, her younger brothers, called her “Law” because she was quick to enforce the rules when their parents were absent. Frugality came from her dad.
After graduating from West Southern Pines High, in 1967, Gwen, as most called her, attended Howard University, earning a BS in Chemistry in 1967. Intent on realizing her dream of a career in medicine, she matriculated at Hahnemann Medical School, Drexel University where she met the love of her life, Norman Dubissette, a fellow classmate.
The tragedy that befell Gwennelle with the sudden death of Norman changed the course of her life. Forced to relinquish her dreams and drop out of medical school, she poured every ounce of her being into raising their son, Charles Dubissette. One thing never changed: the young mother’s passion for learning. Classes ranged from pottery to woodworking to calligraphy to shoemaking—and on and on. She even obtained her real estate license. Fascinated with Egyptian and African cultures, she also studied holistic medicines and cures.
Firm but strict
But the heart and soul of her existence was her son Charles, and his education remained foremost in her mind. Firm but strict, she would be the first to volunteer if any of his school groups needed an adult chaperone.
Along with driving her son to and from school every day from 1st to 8th grade, Gwen enrolled him in every conceivable extra-curricular event she could find, swimming, Cub Scouts, chess club, kite making—
“She felt that the more I was exposed to, the more well-rounded I would be,” Charles said. So long as her work didn’t conflict, she also attended every sporting event/game he participated in, including tennis, baseball, basketball, swim meets, and lacrosse.
In middle school, Charles told his mother he wanted some Jams, a brand of knee-length shorts. Crafty Gwennelle immediately bought a pattern and fabric and stayed up all night whipping up three or four pairs of shorts from scratch.
“Another time,” he said, “in preparation for a school trip to Boston, she stayed up all night sewing small pockets in the waistband of my underwear so that I could store my money there when I slept.” The reason? He would be staying overnight with strangers in the city.
But his studies concerned her most.
“I never had a bad grade,” Charles said. “She was on top of me and my classwork. She would talk to the teachers throughout the school term, and even help me with my homework when I needed it.”
On one occasion, Charles had a school project dealing with the brain. “Mom said that we would create a three-dimensional replica of the various areas of the brain, using Styrofoam, while creating a separate layer for each part.” He started the project and Gwen, as was her habit, “stayed up all night, finishing it and painting it,” he said.
“It was absolutely phenomenal,” he added, “and the teacher stated she had never seen anything that creative.”
His top grades continued throughout college and provided a great foothold on a flourishing real estate career.
Incredible intellect & Emeril Lagasse
Gwen’s love of science and medicine, plus her incredible intellect, won her a job at Duke University, where she worked in clinical research for 30 years. In 1992, she met her best friend at Duke, Rosita Royal. Both became in-house monitors for clinical research trials in oncology, mainly breast cancer. They wrote protocols for experimental drug studies, and once a protocol was approved, they would visit hospitals and universities to monitor patients and their data.
The two had a lot more in common than clinical research, namely the home shopping network. Glued to QVC, Gwen indulged in solar lanterns, anything electrical, and cooking utensils.
“She loved Emeril Lagasse and would buy all his products,” Rosita said. “We’d watch a demo, and it looked easy, and she would jump in.” Only one problem. The utensil or fryer usually went to Charles. Gwen was not much of a cook.
Her disinterest in cooking would make for an instant one-liner.
“She could make a joke out of anything,” Rosita said. “She had this big, bright smile and was always laughing or chuckling. She would say, ‘Royal, you have to chuckle, so you don’t take things too seriously.”
Gwen called everyone by their last name.
She was also a spellbinding conversationalist, her knowledge absorbed from her unending classes and all the books she read: literature, science, history, you name it. Books filled her three-bedroom apartment in Raleigh, NC, as did photographs in frames often made by Gwen. From a frame class, of course. They lined every wall and reflected histories of all those in her family; tons of Charles, her parents, brothers, and eventually her two cherished granddaughters, who become the new lights in her life.
Following a calligraphy class, she wrote out the Lord’s Prayer and framed it for her wall. A sewing class led to a birthday gift for Rosita’s son, a sweatshirt with his name written in glow-in-the-dark calligraphy that Gwen later retrieved, once Rosita’s son was older, and turned into a pillow.
Thrilled when Barack Obama was elected the first Black American president, she gained a new interest in politics.
Roy Rogers and Bojangles
At 5-feet-4, Gwennelle was a petite, beautiful, and ambitious young girl, one who matured into a fun-loving, curvaceous woman who laughed all the time and catered to slacks and a blazer for business. If she dined out, a Roy Rogers dinner or Bojangles chicken her likely preferences. Christmas always included a Honey Baked Ham, Turkey, and all the trimmings.
Family remained paramount, and after her mother passed away, in 1983, Gwen cared for her father, staying with him on weekends. And she and Charles made it a point to spend Christmas with Ernest. Every single night, at 6 sharp, she would call him.
“If she was on the phone with me,” Rosita said, “and it was 6 o’clock, she would say, ‘Well, Royal, have to get off and call my dad’.”
When her brothers needed lodging during their college days, she took them in, but the sibling rivalry debates never ceased.
Did she have faults? Not many.
“She was chronically late,” her son said. “I don’t think I was early for school one day in the eight years she drove me, but I always received perfect attendance.”
Not that she didn’t try. “She would set her clocks in the house fifteen minutes ahead and still be late,” moaned Charles, who got some revenge as a teenager. “I was so frustrated with being late that I told her the wrong start time for a summer school graduation program on purpose.”
They still arrived after the time Charles had appointed, but they were one hour early for the actual graduation. “She was furious!”
Happy Birthday calls
Gwen eventually became a clinical research associate and traveled all over the world, collecting books, trinkets, and such. She also visited every state in the US as part of her job and relished going to Europe, Africa, Egypt. She would always bring things home for Charles and his friends, little mementos. “Sometimes it was a hat, a key chain, or a refrigerator magnet, with that city’s name on it.
Birthdays for all Gwen’s family members and friends meant a Happy Birthday phone call. It was a tradition. The calls were especially important to her son, who moved to Virginia in 2014, where he lives with his wife Evonne, and daughters Elaina and Erin.
“Every birthday she would call me at midnight and sing happy birthday to me,” Charles said. “I only missed her call once, in 2011. Thankfully, she left a message, singing to me, and I still have that message on my phone.”
Back surgery, in 2014, called a halt to Gwen’s career. Forced into retirement, she never fully recovered from her injuries. In 2020, she was experiencing some minor paralysis due to spinal stenosis. Doctors said it would get progressively worse, and that she needed immediate surgery.
The mark Gwennelle left on her son is indelible. “My mother was simply incredible,” Charles said. “She exhibited so many wonderful traits to so many people. She was strong, intelligent, down to earth, funny, inquisitive, humble, loving, frugal, considerate, kind, and frank.”
True, as a child, even as a young adult, he saw her as strict. “As an adult and father, however, I now see her as inspirational and aspire to be like her. I can only pray that I can challenge and empower my children the way she challenged and empowered me.”
Going forward, when he thinks of his mom, he will be sad and long to hear her voice. “But that sadness will shift to inspiration and motivation because I will always know that I am her eternal ‘pride and joy.”
Predeceased by her parents and brothers, Gwennelle is survived by her son Charles Dubissette, daughter-in-law, Evonne Dubissette, granddaughters Elaina, 4, and Erin, 2; sister-in-law Teresa Clark, Clark, 3; nieces, Treneitra Jones, Latoya Gardner, Le’Andrea Clark, and nephew, Ernest Clark, III.
A memorial service is planned for Saturday, 2 pm, June 12, 2021, at Lea Funeral Home, 2500 Poole Road, Raleigh, NC 27610.