In Memoriam: Steve Clements, 1933-2014

by Chris Currie

STEPHEN CLEMENTS WITH NICK DUNTEN

Steve Clements

Stephen Arthur Clements, 81, died last month after a very brief struggle with cancer. His passing shocked many in our community; after all, only a few weeks before he’d authored a retrospective of the early history of the Hyattsville Life & Times, the newspaper he founded, for its 10th anniversary issue (July 2014).

Although he’d moved with his wife, Marlise, to Reisterstown several years ago to be closer to their family, Steve never seemed far removed from his hometown of nearly half a century. He stayed in touch by email, posts on the community listserv, phone calls and occasional visits.  We never guessed that he would leave us so suddenly, without a chance to say goodbye. This brief appreciation, then, is our farewell to our founder and our friend.

Steve was the sort of person who used to be called “a pillar of the community,” back when America was a tapestry of neighborhoods that people and families were truly invested in, sometimes for generations. He grew into the role later in life, when many others are slowing down or starting to reap leisure as the reward of a life of hard work.

Steve was truly a self-made man. Having paid his way through Gonzaga College High School by working nights as a radio announcer, he went on to earn a degree from the Benjamin Franklin School of Accountancy in Washington, where he met and courted Marlise, then a recent immigrant from Germany. He worked hard at a series of Washington-area businesses, developing a reputation as a problem solver, someone who could restore an ailing business to financial health. He spent the last years of his career at a business consulting firm, applying his acumen to the needs of many companies in the region.

In 1960, Steve moved with his wife and two young children to the house on Kennedy Street that remained his home for 48 years. For decades, he lived a quiet life in the neighborhood. After his retirement, however, Steve decided that it was time to give back to the larger community the wisdom that he’d accumulated during a lifetime of experience. He served many years a volunteer at the Service Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE), donating services to new and small businesses to help them survive and thrive.

It was during this productive retirement that Steve also became more interested in civic affairs. He got involved in the community discussion about the fate of the vacant WSSC Building – a turbulent episode in Hyattsville history marked by often-acrimonious debate between neighbors and civic officials. Steve’s leadership qualities blossomed, as he showed his allies how to advance a position by appealing to reason instead of ad-hominem attacks. In turn, he gained the respect of his opponents.

Later, in 2004, he became convinced of the need for a local newspaper in Hyattsville, and went about the project in his inimitable fashion, with hard work, business expertise, and a facility to build bridges in the city’s political and business communities.  The nonprofit venture was so successful that he was able to help establish the Hyattsville Community Foundation, which received all of its initial funding from the newspaper’s surpluses. Steve worked as business manager of the paper for three years, all of them as a volunteer, and was able to recruit volunteers to fill all the staff positions of the paper – an achievement that has not been repeated in the years since he retired.

Steve became the ideal citizen and civic leader.  Even-tempered, even-handed, reasonable and careful in his judgments, he could differ without demonizing. Conservative in outlook, he had the wisdom to embrace change when it renewed the life of his community. He waded through the rough seas of civic politics with a gentleness and geniality that won the respect of all and helped to bring us together. The stamp of his personality remains embedded in our civic culture, and his legacy lives on in this newspaper and in the lives of all he touched. May we all try to live up to his sterling example.

Chris Currie is vice president of Hyattsville Community Newspaper Inc., which publishes the Hyattsville Life & Times.