Former Gary mayor Rudy Clay remembered for his easy-going personality
By Christin Nance Lazerus firstname.lastname@example.org June 11, 2013 12:16PM
Updated: July 13, 2013 6:34AM
GARY — Friends and acquaintances remembered the positive attitude and good works of the late Gary mayor Rudy Clay at a visitation and memorial service Tuesday.
From fellow politicians to constituents, a steady stream of visitors paid their respects to Clay at the Genesis Convention Center.
Clay, 77, died on June 4 after a battle with prostate cancer. Clay was a fixture in Lake County politics for 40 years, serving as a state senator, county councilman, county recorder and county commissioner. He was elected as Lake County’s first black Democratic Party chairman in 2005.
Lake County Commissioner Gerry Scheub said he first met Clay when the two worked at a Prudential Insurance office in Glen Park in 1958.
“It was before either one of us even dreamed of being involved in politics,” Scheub said. “He was always smiling and he never took anything personally. If a vote didn’t go his way, he’d begin on another project.”
Clay’s casket was surrounded by colorful flowers and greenery that his staff said he always loved.
“They did a beautiful job with the arrangements,” said Clara Castro, who worked for Clay for more than 20 years. “He loved flowers. The mayor is probably looking down on us and saying, ‘Guys, this is exactly what I wanted’.”
Thalia Moore started as then-County Commissioner Clay’s executive assistant in 1986, and worked for him until his last mayoral term ended in January 2012.
“He was so good to me,” Moore said. “I called him a few weeks ago and he never let on that he was so sick. He has really, really been dear to my heart.”
Castro said she started working at the Lake County Government Center because Clay “was a fighter for having minorities work in different departments.”
“I don’t think there’s anyone who can fill his shoes,” Castro said. “We were very close and he was more like our mentor.”
Clay was a 1953 graduate of Roosevelt High School, and many of his classmates were on hand to swap stories. Clay often hosted the meet and greet reunion picnics at his home.
“That’s why this is so bittersweet,” classmate Thelma Rainge said. “We had our 60th reunion planned for July 13 and 14 and he was on the planning committee.”
Rainge said Clay’s jovial spirit and giggle were wonderful qualities as was his ability to serve as the voice of reason.
“The bottom line is he loved his city and his people,” Rainge said.
During a memorial service Tuesday evening, clergy and politicians gathered to reflect on Clay’s influence on the community.
“We celebrate a prince of politics,” said the Rev. Norman Hairston of Zion Progressive Cathedral. “Rudy loved the Lord. That was evident by the way he loved the people.”
Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson recognized the sacrifice Clay made to serve Gary and its residents.
“He served his city at one of the must difficult financial times for this city,” Freeman-Wilson said, “and he did it with a classic amount of humor, grace, steadfastness and determination.”
Clay focused on the vision he had for the city, state Rep. Vernon Smith said.
“He took the criticism and stayed focused,” Smith said. “He didn’t let the obstacles deter him from his goals.”
Former mayor Thomas Barnes pointed to Clay’s pride in being a public servant, always ready to hand out trinkets with his name or image. Barnes said some elected officials will try to distance themselves from the label “politician.”
“I never heard Rudy say that,” Barnes said. “He was proud to be a government person and was proud to be a politician.”
City Councilwoman Mary Brown owed her decision to seek political office to Clay, when she was a member of a political group known as the “Clay Mates.”
“Everyone has a Rudy Clay story,” Brown said. “We believed in Rudy and made sure he was successful to become our state senator.”
“He loved people,” the Rev Carrell Cargle of Christian Methodist Episcopal said. “If you crossed his path, he would embrace you.”
The funeral service will be held Wednesday at the Genesis Convention Center.
Funeral services will be streamed live starting at 11 a.m. on Gary’s government access channel WJPN-TV and online. Those who wish to watch on the Internet can visit ustream.tv and search for “Gary Access Network.”
Post-Tribune staff reporter
Matt Mikus contributed to this story.