Mary Higgins Clark died on the evening of the last day of January, too late to be included in our February newzletter. But that’s ok. She deserves her own post.
Mary Theresa Eleanor Higgins was born on Christmas Eve, 1927, in The Bronx. Her father owned an Irish pub and things got tighter as the Depression ground on. Things got far harder when her father died in his sleep when she was 12.
She began writing stories in grammar school and was encourage by the adults around her. She submitted her first story to a magazine at 16. It was rejected. Her first job was as a secretary but she was known for her beauty as well and did modeling – once with a young Grace Kelly. She was recommended to Pan Am and took the job as flight attendant because it paid more than modeling. She was introduced to Warren Clark at the night of her farewell dinner before she took off. She had known of him and he was immediately smitten with her and told her they’d marry in a year. She flew international routes for 1949 but did give it up to marry Clark two days after her 22 birthday.
She went back to writing to occupy herself, she studied at NYU, joined a writer’s group and learned to look through the newspapers for ideas. Finally, in 1956, after 40 rejections in 6 years, she sold a story to a magazine. In that time she also had 4 children and, after that first story sold, she began to regularly sell her fiction.
Starting in 1959, Warren Clark began to have health problems. A series of heart attacks left him unable to work by 1964. To be able to support the six of them, Mary asked a friend to get her work writing scripts for radio. On the day she was given her first job, her husband suffered a fatal heart attack. Her mother-in-law, upon finding him dead, herself dropped dead.
She kept writing though the short story market had nearly vanished. She kept writing for the radio. She turned her radio scripts – about George and Martha Washington – into a novel. It sold for a very modest amount and was, as she later joked, immediately remaindered. Soon after it was published, her own mother died. She kept working. She kept pressing her children to work at their education to ensure their financial health. She decided to show them by example. In 1971 she entered Fordham and, in 1979, graduated summa cum laude with a BA in philosophy.
This was a woman who could not be stopped.
Through more heartache and death and school, she kept writing and, finally, in the Spring of ’74, Simon & Schuster bought her novel Where are the Children? for $3,000. Three months later the paperback rights sold for $100,000. Her financial worries were over. Two years later, her second novel sold for $1.5 million.
We’re not even going to try to list her novels or even count them. There are the novels, the short fiction, the Holiday stories. And then there were the accolades. From wikipedia:
“Higgins Clark won numerous awards for her writing. In addition to those previously referenced, she won the Horatio Alger Award (1997) and the Passionists’ Ethics in Literature Award (2002), as well as the Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University Spirit of Achievement Award (1994) and the National Arts Club‘s Gold Medal in Education (1994). She was awarded eighteen honorary doctorates, including one from her alma mater, Fordham University. Her success was also recognized by groups representing her heritage. The American Irish Historical Society granted her the Gold Medal of Honor in 1993, and in 2001 she won the Ellis Island Medal of Honor. She was named a Bronx Legend (1999).
Mary Higgins Clark served as the Chairman of the International Crime Congress in 1988 and was the 1987 president of the Mystery Writers of America. For many years she served on the board of directors of the Mystery Writers of America. Simon & Schuster, which have published all of Higgins Clark’s novels and in the late 1990s signed her to a $64-million, four-book contract, have funded the Mary Higgins Clark Award, given by the Mystery Writers of America to authors of suspense fiction. The announcement that an award would be given in her honor was made at the 55th Annual Edgar Allan Poe Awards, where Higgins Clark was inducted as a Grand Master.
Higgins Clark was made a Dame of the Order of St. Gregory the Great, and was honored as a Dame of Malta and a Dame of the Order of the Holy Sepulchre. The Franciscan Friars gave her a Graymoor Award (1999) and she was awarded a Christopher Life Achievement Award. She served as a board member for the Catholic Communal Fund and as a member of the Board of Governors at Hackensack Hospital.
In 1981, by happenstance, she was in DC the day President Reagan was shot. Again, from wikipedia, “Because she had a press pass she was able to join the media waiting to hear the President’s prognosis. When the doctor finally arrived to start the press conference, Higgins Clark was one of the few people chosen to ask a question.”
In 1996, she married John J. Conheeney, a retired CEO from the financial industry, and they lived in a number of homes her books afforded her to own. She died at one of them in Naples, FL. She was 92
Her website gives more details, as well as a number of videos.
Alas, she was one of the authors we never had the honor of hosting for a signing. We did get to have her daughter, Carol Higgins Clark, back in the early 2000s.
R.I.P. Mary Theresa Eleanor Higgins Clark Mary Theresa Eleanor Higgins Conheeney