Toni Clark died August 23, 2016 after a brief, fierce battle with multiple myeloma. She was 74.
Her life had a daily grace she shared with her husband, family, friends and students without reservation and with an astonishingly open heart. One of the beauties of her life was that rare feat of being able to achieve all she wanted to, and there was a great deal of that, including a wide and varied array of academic and artistic successes as well as the creation of gardens that are the pride of Claremont.
Growing up in a house in the hills behind Ventura, Toni woke to a panoramic view of the ocean and the Channel Islands, surfed that ocean and developed a bond with it that lasted a lifetime. In high school she swam competitively, taught swimming, rode her horse in the hills behind Ventura with her sister Vicki and began the exploration of the natural world that became a lifelong passion.
After graduating from Ventura High School in l959, Ms. Clark went on to UC Berkeley, where she received her bachelor’s degree in English in l963. She spent a year in London doing independent studies at the British Museum before entering the graduate program in English at UC Santa Barbara. There she focused on modern and Medieval literature and wrote her dissertation on Eliot and Mallarme under the guidance of Hugh Kenner.
During graduate school she met her husband Larry Thornton, a novelist, to whom she was married for 50 years. While she was studying for her PhD and working as a teaching assistant, she and Professor Bob Potter developed and implemented the first ethnic studies course in UCSB’s history. Ms. Clark taught these courses with the devotion and commitment to the cause of equality that was a hallmark of her professional career for the next 34 years.
She taught at Augsburg College in Minneapolis for 10 years before she accepted the position of Dean of Women at Pomona College and Associate Dean of Students. She also taught courses in Chaucer, Virginia Woolf and modern fiction and poetry in the English department where she was an associate professor and served for a time as chair. Ms. Clark also taught environmental and analysis courses in which she integrated her love of literature with her love of the green world and founded the Race, Class and Gender track in EA. From the beginning of her career, she was a tireless advocate of feminism, one of the early generation of women who challenged the barriers set up by privilege and changed the lives of countless students.
Soon after Toni retired, she became a nature interpreter at Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden, leading groups of all ages along the paths and offering a lifetime of wisdom about the natural world. During her 35 years in Claremont, she created magical gardens around her home from which she and Larry and their many friends derived great pleasure. She and her husband regularly spent time in Maui, where they snorkeled off the coast of Makena. They often visited Big Sur and explored the rocky coast of Point Lobos. Everything she loved was there—the ocean, chaparral, great flocks of birds and migrating whales.
This spring, before cancer struck, she and her husband took a voyage to Tahiti and cruised through French Polynesia where she experienced the joy of all she loved. At the end, with her husband and closest friends at her side, the last thing she heard were the voices of people that she loved.
Donations in her memory can be made to Rancho Santa Ana Botanical Garden in Claremont or The Monterey Bay Aquarium. The date of her memorial at Pomona College will be announced later.