I wanted to share with you a friend of mine that was one of those people who always made you feel welcomed. I was fortunate enough to speak at his memorial service along with a few of his friends from Tuskegee and have liberated a good deal of it here today and on we go.
Clarence Laudrec Shivers was born in 1923 and grew up in the city of St. Louis. As a child Clarence shoveled coal from the back of his dad’s coal delivery truck and was orphaned at 16. Although he had no real intention of joining the military one day he decided to take the entrance exam and passed with very high numbers and was offered a position within the Tuskegee Experiment, so he focused, excelled and graduated at the top of his class in 1944 of the 332nd Fighter Group.
He then went on to instruct other pilots both black and white in the Pacific. After twenty years he retired from the Air Force as a Lieutenant Colonel and began to focus on his life-long passion, art. After receiving his degree from Bradley University and landing in Spain with his wife Peggy he began to create paintings that would become treasures for them that own them. They left Spain and moved to Colorado Springs. It was in less than a year later that I first met Clarence. I was thirteen, and we had moved right next door to the man who would become my friend, teacher, excellent role-model, and second father.
He used to tell me stories of what it was like to be black and working to defend his country in the 1940’s and yet he was treated worse than the prisoners on the base. He had to walk on base behind yellow lines and could not step into many of the white only buildings on base and in town. He encountered racism and bigotry almost every day but knew it was simply ignorance and did his best not to focus on it. He never seemed bitter to me but more disappointed that people at the time were so backward. He was proud of his race and had a love for others in it to do well in life. He believed that we were each responsible for our destiny and since he was able to make himself into a man to aspire to, that all others could do it if they chose to put in the work, effort, and persistence to make it happen.
Did I mention that he could sing and whistle as good as any professional? Often I would hear him next door working out in the garage or yard and whistling some beautiful melody. His wife Peggy is an opera singer and singing Christmas songs at their piano with them was a highlight for me. The last time I sang with Clarence was in a cemetery out in East Texas for a family gathering one very hot summer day in 2005. I would start in on an old Nat King Cole tune, and he would simply join in. We laughed a great deal that weekend and I longed for times when we were younger and had more time together.
Clarence had great woodworking tools and taught me how to use many of them. When he was commissioned by the Miller Brewing company to create calendars for black history month, I helped him cut the boards and paint the base coats on the originals. When in the late 80’s he was commissioned to sculpt the Tuskegee Airman memorial that now stands at the US Air Force Academy he invited me to work with the clay on the original so that my fingers work would be on it also.
He would always laugh and tell stories of how I would follow him around like a puppy dog always wanting to talk or do things with him. He would also brag about the fact that the wooden deck we built onto the front of his house was still standing after some 20 years. He sold me one of the best cars I ever owned; it was a brown 1974 Datsun 260Z. He helped me create one of the first base boxes ever built, for the back of the Z. He taught me how to tip the right people to make things happen quicker. He also talked to me about life and girls. I recall one day in particular when I had used an unkind word to describe a girl. He pointed out to me that the term I used was not accurate and gave me a new perspective on how I viewed girls from that day forward.
As a young adult I moved away from Clarence and Peggy finding my way back to Texas and also to New York but remained in contact and spent time with them several times over the years and I watched as my buddy Clarence begin to lose his short-term memory and his essence began to fade. I would get a kick out of telling him on a phone call the next time I was going to be in for a visit several times, as he would forget he asked. It told me he was looking forward to seeing me, and he was always smiles and laughs when we were together.
Christmas shopping with Clarence for Peggy as he got older was always an adventure, and I was always was so very proud and grateful to be his friend. Most recently we would go to lunch or dinner and he always really enjoyed how the food tasted. The last time I saw him, he handed me a Commandant of Cadets’ medallion from the USAF Academy, and he would not let me give it back to him. I have that here with me, a physical connection to him. He and Peggy were role models for me growing up. They simply loved me for who I was and were always on my side. Going through life and its many changes I always found acceptance, kindness and understanding with them over the years.
Back in 1993, they started the Shivers African-American Historical and Cultural Collection at the Pikes Peak Library District that lives on and has grown ever since. His handsome face is part of the Black Americans in Flight mural that is at the St. Louis Airport. His paintings and sculptures are collected by art collectors & museums across the globe. One of his works was featured in the feature film “A piece of the action” with Sidney Poitier. His last few paintings were of a spiritual nature are featured here and are some of his finest works.
He & Peggy were also involved in bringing Jazz legends to the Rockies as well as supporting local youths. For him to pass during black history month is fitting as he is an incredible part of their history and will be forever present in the future. Aside from his wife and children I think Clarence was most fond of his statue of the Tuskegee Airman that stands at the US Air Force Academy. He will always live in our memories and his works of art, and I will miss him for all of my days.
Enjoy your weekend, share this all you like and Be Well!