If Durham were said to be a patient in a health clinic, Howard Clement would have been the pulse-taker in chief. In three decades on the Durham council, the lawyer and insurance company executive helped the city face crises, and helped it, too, to some of its best moments. He died Wednesday at the age of 82.
Clement had his personal accomplishments, overcoming the era of racial discrimination that his generation faced for decades. He was successful with N.C. Mutual Insurance Co., to be sure. But not all successful people turn and give of their own time and energy to help others in their communities succeed and realize some of their dreams. Howard Clement did.
He was a consensus builder for public housing, for revitalization of downtown and for many efforts to bring Durham citizens together through the trials of racial division. In the sense of being a local politician and public servant, Clement just had it right: He knew what levers to pull to help people; he could work with a diverse group of citizens to help the city achieve its goals. And he had a good touch with his constituents.
He was after all those years on the council someone everyone seemed to know. And that included “everyone” from around the country. Clement also participated in one of the most significant events in American history, Martin Luther King Jr.’s March on Washington in 1963. Clement and others in his generation with whom he worked were made of strong stuff, the strength coming from getting past adversity and keeping one’s eye on the long term, the “big picture.”