A whole bunch of otherwise smart, strong and perfectly capable people are finding big holes in their lives right now following last week's news that Randalyn Nickelsen Clark — an old friend of mine, the wife of my ex-boss and the mother of two promising young men — lost her long, tough battle with ovarian cancer.
Even though I was no longer in the tightest, innermost circle of Randy's closest friends, she left holes in the lives of my wife and me, too.
For anyone lucky enough to get close to Randy, it was always understood by all of us that we were merely extras and supporting players in her movie. She was the star, and I don't mean that in a negative, diva kind of way. We were LUCKY to be in her movie.
When I arrived at the Tigard Times toward the end of the summer of 1974, Randy was already there, serving as editor of the People section and as a general assignment reporter. And, even though the rest of us news people (and our significant others) in those days were in our 20s, we all soon figured out that Randy knew things the rest of us didn't.
One of the first things she taught me was that Diet 7-Up and Diet Coke were actually good — way better than other diet pops of that era.
She taught me to use the office camera, a clunky, square box that you had to look down into, at an image that was backward and upside down — making it almost impossible to shoot a Tigard Town and Country Days Parade marching down Southwest Main Street.
She taught us where to find the best burritos in town, which, in 1974 was at Betty's Poor Shoes — originally in a rambling old house up Barbur Boulevard and then down on Main Street in the spot destined to become Café Allegro.
Randy really knew how to cook. She could feed a whole houseful of people and not only knock their socks off by how good it was, but also make it look so easy you wanted to swear off cooking yourself, pretty much forever.
She knew where to find the best margaritas as well as the best happy hours.
She knew how to host a party. The first Randy soiree I ever attended was in a little house she rented on Hall Boulevard (near where the Tigard Library now sits), and that's where we met Steve Clark, the quiet-talking kid from OSU who would later become her husband (and, even later, an important force in the newspaper world). There would be more parties, of course — at their place in West Linn, at their Sunny Hill house next to the golf course in Lake Oswego, and other, increasingly beautiful homes at Gresham, Bull Mountain and Black Butte.
She was, to be blunt, great fun. She had a wicked sense of humor, a childlike sweetness and a bold creativity that many others often lack. And she was, it must be added, an uncommonly good writer.
But Randy was, in her own right, also an important force. After bailing out of the newspaper world (a wise move, history tells us), she was director of marketing for the YMCA of Columbia-Willamette, owner of her own company (Nickelsen Clark Advertising & Public Relations) and, ultimately, once she and Steve bought their six little papers, co-owner of Community Newspapers Inc. Then, of course, Robert Pamplin Jr. bought them out, along with every other paper in the Portland area not already nailed down, all about the same time he started up the Portland Tribune.
Randy knew how to put up wallpaper. She even helped us wallpaper our own house — probably because we helped them do theirs in LO back when Billy Ray Bates was a Trail Blazer. She and Steve also helped us build a rock hearth for our wood stove, plus too many other home improvement projects to mention here.
She always understood what it would take to make your house better, and she shared that advice free of charge. Her knowledge ran the gamut from interior decorating, feng shui, colors, styles, textures and trends — and, although she no doubt debated with herself over whether or not to tell you, she always did, and she was always right.
Randy was not only the swizzle stick that stirred the drink (euphemistically speaking), she could also MAKE a proper drink and knew full well what to do with it.
It should be noted that it was almost always Randy who had the ideas for the next fun thing you ought to do — to go downtown to the Fun Center, to drop everything and go to the State Fair for elephant ears, to go to the beach and eat chili dogs for breakfast, or to go for a Jeep ride in the hills — which, of course, meant she would drive and everyone else would squeal like schoolgirls when she careened over rocks and logs.
If you were fortunate enough to visit the Clarks' "other" home at Black Butte Ranch, you realized you would never, ever light up the firmament quite the way Randy Clark did, and that was OK. There was a stuffed bear in their house, for crying out loud, not to mention a giant antler chandelier and themes to all the guest rooms.
She raised two handsome sons, Colin and Conor, oversaw an endless succession of cats and dogs, without ever seeming to work at it and could handle a horse with ease.
She could sing better than most, and she laughed louder than anybody else in the room.
She bought her husband a sports car on eBay.
You could not think of Randy Clark in any way even remotely resembling competition, because she was so far ahead of you. She was Martha Stewart without the stiffness. She was Gloria Steinem without seeming threatening. And, thanks to her exuberance about almost everything, she was Oprah Winfrey (without the millions maybe) but every bit her equal in spirit and generosity. If you haven't figured it out by now, she was indomitable and insurmountable.
Which brings me to the Randy that trumped all the others. As a wife and mom and, perhaps most important, a grandmother, she was, quite simply, a force of nature. The only evidence you needed was to see one of her "Nana Wednesday" posts on Facebook, in which she simply turned her grandson Eliott loose and recorded his antics on a weekly basis. It was clearly the role she was born to play.
No, for many of us, the world is a little duller this week, quite a bit grayer and a whole lot quieter.
It now occurs to me that without Randy here, nobody on this earth will ever encourage me to dig out my old 45s and then sing along, maybe even dance, to those corny old tunes. For that reason, and many, many more, it will be a while before I stop feeling sad.
Mikel Kelly has been retired from the newspaper business for a year and a half now. His retirement party was attended by lots of people, but none more boisterous and fun than Randy Clark.