The Sad Story of Hugette Clark (Also Not Quite Dead Yet) – by Joy A. Martinez

Nineteenth century American essayist, poet and philosopher Henry David Thoreau once said, “A man is rich in proportion to the number of things which he can afford to let alone.” Yet, the universally beloved and renowned Mother Teresa of Calcutta once shared with the world, “Even the rich are hungry for love, for being cared for, for being wanted, for having someone to call their own.” The media has once again summonsed the public to take heed to another baffling dilemma of the rich and famous.  It reminds us that modest money may make the golden years of the poor memorable while an excess of money makes it the most hideous for the rich and famous. Through all of this sensationalism, we fail to stop and say to ourselves during what time does the rich ever feel as if “they can afford to let alone?” Do they hunger for love, to be cared for, to be wanted, to have someone to call their own? A brief reflection of the enigmatic golden years of the life of Huguette Clark may not answer these questions, but it will certainly help us to appreciate the smaller things in life.

Huguette Clark, 104, born in Paris, France in 1906, is the heiress and youngest daughter of William A. Clark, whom MSNBC described as a “former disgraced U.S. senator.”  She was a musician and artist whose works were displayed at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.  After her father’s death in 1929, she and her mother resided in New York City. Clark married William McDonald Gower, a Princeton graduate and law student, but later divorced him in 1930.  Clark and her mother were not the typical socialites, and they became more reclusive after the death of Clark’s father. Yet, they were described as “loving and giving women.”  Clark became more and more socially obscure after her mother died in 1963.  It was documented that one of her sisters died at the tender age of 16.  As Clark grew older, she cultivated few relationships.  During her mid-years, she grew distrusting of people to the point where she spoke in French to minimize the chance that someone would understand what she was saying.  It is rumored that, as an adult, one of her favorite pastimes was playing with dolls and dollhouses.

One could not blame Clark for being so secretive considering the assets she accumulated throughout her life, for instance, her $100 million dollar Cliffside home which was christened, “Bellosguardo,” which means “beautiful home.”  It is reported that fifty years has passed since Clark had been at the estate, which was measured at 21,666 square feet on 23 acres of land, and constructed in memory of her deceased sister. Another empty mansion, known as “Le Beau Chateau,” worth $24 million dollars is situated in New Canaan, Connecticut, which, according to Clark’s nephew, was supposed to have served Clark as a bomb shelter during the cold war.  There is also the expansive dwelling, 907 Fifth Avenue, a New York apartment building alongside Central Park, which is comprised of 42 rooms and 15,000 square feet, making up the entire 8th floor and half of the 12th floor of the building. MSNBC reported that no one has seen Clark there in at least 22 years. These residences contained what antique experts consider to be the most beautiful timepieces possessed by man. Clark owned La Pucelle (“The Virgin”), a genuine 1709 violin crafted by Antonio Stradivari as well as French Painter’s Pierre Auguste Renoir’s 1882 rendition of “In the Roses.”

What is really truly baffling is America’s fascination with Clark’s location, and what will happen to her wealth? Clark was last seen admitted in Mount Sinai Hospital, and supposedly was transferred to another hospital, but then again, even her nephews and nieces are not certain of her whereabouts. The media has reported that her attorney, Wallace Bock, refused to disclose any information, because he has been respectful of her wishes. Bock was named a beneficiary in her will and he legally supervised a number of real estate transactions while keeping Clark’s location a secret. Both he and Clark’s accountant, Irving Kamsler, both allegedly received expensive gifts from their client. These allegations bring both fiduciaries under serious ethical scrutiny.

In August 2010, the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office launched an investigation into how Bock and Kamsler were handling her assets, which is estimated at $500 million dollars. However, despite the fact that he would not disclose Clark’s whereabouts, Bock did not hesitate to share that she made numerous million dollars gifts to friends, which included gifts of dolls and dollhouses to children and/or grandchildren of friends and staff, real estate gifts estimated at approximately $2 million dollars, monetary endowment of nearly $1.2 million to a nurse for the purchase of residences in the States of New York and New Jersey.  Similar to Philanthropist Brooke Astor, who loved art and bestowed the Metropolitan Museum of Art with a good chuck of her wealth, Clark also had a soft spot for humanitarian endowment. She endowed the Boy Scouts of America with nearly 215 acres of land near Santa Barbara, California, and was known to have helped many people throughout the years.

Clark’s grand-nephew and nieces made a judicial request for the appointment of a guardian to manage her affairs. However, the court denied their request upon a finding that their strongest evidence all boiled down to nothing more than hearsay.  It is said that the Manhattan D.A. had spoken with Clark on two occasions, and based on such, had concluded that she lost her faculties and suffered from deterioration of visual and auditory skills.  It is amazing how the D.A. could arrive at such a conclusion, but the court still refused to appoint a guardian. One could raise an inference that something has gone awry here since the court must have been presented with some sort of expert opinion as to Clark’s medical deficiencies.

In conclusion, Huguette Clark has no children, was married once and divorced, and sadly, will end her life being the focus of the media, distant relatives, an attorney and accountant whose ethical judgments are highly dubious.  Yet, beneath all of this, Clark did live her life as the rich woman whose wealth was proportionate to the number of things that she could afford to let alone. She left alone the spotlight and the power associated with puppeteering syncophants.  It is obvious that the more relatives she lost, the more reclusive she became. Her wealth was not what made her a human being.  As a rich woman, Clark was “hungry for love, for being cared for, for being wanted, for having someone to call her own.”  Her life story should remind us that a modest amount of money may make the golden years of the poor memorable while an excess of money can make it the most hideous for the rich and famous.  This brief reflection of the enigmatic golden years of the life of Huguette Clark did not answer all of our questions, but it certainly helped us to appreciate the smaller things in life.



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