Foreign Affairs Day Plaque Ceremony

Maria Otero
Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights 
Washington, DC
May 4, 2012

Today we gather to honor the life and service of Sharon Clark -- a mother, a teacher, a traveler, and a patriot. Sharon was working at the U.S. Embassy in Abuja, Nigeria, as the Office Management Specialist for the Regional Security Office, when she died from cerebral malaria on December 26, 2010.

Ambassador McCulley, speaking for all at the U.S. Mission to Nigeria, said recently that Sharon’s death was a blow to the entire American community: She worked in the Regional Security Office, perhaps the busiest section of the mission, but she was never too busy to offer a friendly word to a co-worker, a discreet bit of advice to her younger colleagues, or to pitch in and contribute to the work of another section when leave or senior visits pulled folks away from the office. Noting that Nigeria is one of the Africa Bureau’s most difficult posts, Ambassador McCulley said that Sharon’s contributions to the life and morale of the Mission were a wonderful example of how one dedicated and caring person can make a difference.

From all that I’ve heard, Sharon was a woman whose life revolved around two great passions.

The first was a love of exploration of far-flung places. Although Abuja was Sharon’s first posting as a member of the Foreign Service, she also lived in Cairo for five years and served as Embassy Housing Coordinator and later, Housing Manager. Just a week before her death, Sharon spoke to her daughter Melissa and said she was excited about her upcoming assignment to Taipei.

Melissa has told us that her mother had a lifelong “passion” for travel and exploration. But in talking with Sharon’s daughters and son, it is clear that Sharon’s true passion was her family, many of whom we are honored to welcome to the Department today. Sharon’s children, her son-in-law Brandon; grandchildren James and Savanna, who are two of Sharon’s four grandchildren; and Sharon’s brother Robert -- all are here today, along with extended family and friends.

It is easy to see why so many have come today to honor Sharon. She was a dedicated mother, grandmother, friend, and colleague. This was a woman who was valedictorian of her high school class; who spent decades at home, raising her three children, Michelle, David, and Melissa; who earned a degree in business while holding down a full-time job; who, in her 40s, followed her dream to serve our country overseas; and who threw herself into whatever she was doing with passion and integrity. This was a woman who ended her remarkable journey representing her country with distinction in Africa’s most consequential capital.

Michelle tells the story of how Sharon used to “Skype” with her grandson -- connecting over thousands of miles. Her grandson would just sit and smile. He still smiles when he sees her photos.

Sharon loved children, and especially loved teaching children. In addition to home schooling her own children for some time, Sharon volunteered to read to children in small villages near Abuja -- one of the many ways she reached out to both the Embassy and the community.

Victoria Tunba, a colleague of Sharon’s in Abuja who joins us here today, recalls that Sharon took an interest in Rachel, the young daughter of one of the stewards who worked in the housing compound. Sharon would invite Rachel to her home, and together the two would watch children’s movies, and read books and the National Geographic Magazine for Kids. For Rachel, and for so many of you here today, Sharon was a goodwill Ambassador in the truest sense of the word -- bridging the gaps between cultures and countries to improve lives.

We at the State Department often speak of the “Foreign Service Family” in reference to the close bonds that grow among Embassy staff when we are far from home and loved ones.

Sharon was a cherished member of the Embassy Abuja Family. In addition to her role as an adoptive grandmother to local Nigerian children, Sharon opened her heart and home to members of the Embassy community. I hope you’ll indulge me in reading a note I received from Corporal Thomas “Fish” Fischetti, who served with Sharon in Abuja, and who is now in La Paz, Bolivia:

“One of my favorite memories was when Sharon threw me a surprise birthday dinner for my 21st birthday. I had no idea what was going on; nor did I expect anything. She invited all the Marines over and made my favorite foods, including homemade ice cream. It’s a memory I will treasure. From then on the Marines and I got random emails from her, inviting us to “Sunday dinner at Mom’s,” and all the Marines just called her “Mom.” She was one of the kindest and most genuine people I have known. I am glad I had the privilege of getting to know her.”

That’s a feeling that everyone who knew Sharon seems to hold. We in the State Department are privileged to have had Sharon as a colleague, friend and surrogate “Mom” -- and she leaves behind a legacy of kindness in the many lives she touched.

Thank you all for being here. And to Sharon’s family and friends: thank you for sharing her with us. She is gone too soon, but she is remembered and missed, and her generosity of spirit serves as an inspiration to us all.