Tennessee Supreme Court Justice Cornelia A. Clark, whose public service to the judiciary and her community spanned over four decades, passed away overnight, at the age of 71 after a short battle with cancer. Justice Clark was first appointed to the Supreme Court in 2005 by Governor Phil Bredesen and was reelected in 2006 and 2014. She served as Chief Justice from 2010 to 2012.
“Justice Clark was a member of the Tennessee judicial family for over 30 years and has mentored hundreds of judges,” said Chief Justice Roger A. Page. “She loved the Tennessee judicial system and has made it better in immeasurable ways. As her colleague for the past five and one-half years, I observed her tremendous work ethic. Her keen mind was surpassed only by her kind and caring heart. She truly tried her best to decide each case based on the applicable law and nothing else. The Supreme Court will not be the same without her.”
Prior to joining the Court, she was the director of the Administrative Office of the Courts from 1999 to 2005.
“Justice Clark and I served together on the Supreme Court for thirteen years. We shared many experiences as colleagues and as friends,” Justice Sharon G. Lee said. “Our friendship strengthened over the years as we faced challenges together—such as the contested retention election in 2014—and through our laughter and good times when we joined with fellow women judges at our ‘Tennessee Chicks Rule’ dinners, and when we traveled to Cuba to study their judicial system. I saw first-hand Justice Clark’s tireless dedication to her faith, her family, her friends, the judiciary, and access to justice for all. She faced every challenge and obstacle with grace, hard work, and humility.”
When Governor Ned McWherter appointed Justice Clark to the trial bench covering the 21st Judicial District of Williamson, Hickman, Perry and Lewis counties in 1989, she became the first woman trial judge to serve rural counties in Tennessee. She paved the way for fellow judges to be accepted by clerks, litigants, lawyers, and other judges.
“Connie Clark’s service to the people of the State of Tennessee at all levels was inspiring and second to none. Her commitment to public service was unsurpassed,” said Justice Jeff Bivins. “She was a brilliant and incredibly fair jurist. Her institutional knowledge and expertise cannot be replaced. To me, she also was a trusted friend and colleague both before and since I joined the Court. I will so miss her not only in all Court matters but as a dear friend.”
Justice Clark had the longest tenure of the Justices currently serving on the Supreme Court. She was well-known for precise and detailed legal analysis and writing style, as well as being an active and thoughtful questioner during oral arguments. In total, she was on the bench for more than 1,100 Supreme Court cases.
"Justice Connie Clark had a pitch-perfect judicial temperament. Always calm, measured, precise, and even-handed in her approach to the Court’s decisions,” said Justice Holly Kirby. “In the important cases the Court takes on, she always strove to put aside any political considerations or personal judgment on the wisdom of actions of the other two branches of government. I’ll never attain Justice Clark’s level of judicial perfection, but she inspires me every day to try."
Justice Clark’s scope of work, however, reached far beyond the Supreme Court. She was involved in nearly every program and project in the court system, including the Access to Justice initiative, as well as a being a fixture in bar, community, and religious organizations in Middle Tennessee and nationally for more than 40 years.
An Early Advocate For Women In The Legal Profession
After graduating from Vanderbilt University and earning a master of arts in teaching from Harvard University, Justice Clark taught history for four years in the Atlanta area. She went on to study law at Vanderbilt University Law School, where she was a member of the Law Review Editorial Board.
Upon graduation in 1979, Justice Clark practiced law in Nashville and Franklin, becoming, in 1984, one of the first woman partners in a large Nashville law firm. She specialized in municipal and employment law, and represented many cities, police departments, and several school boards.
She joined legal organizations that advocated the advancement of women in leadership roles, including the Lawyers’ Association for Women, Marion Griffin Chapter, and the Tennessee Lawyer’s Association for Women. She also chaired the Board of Directors of the Nashville YWCA and served on the Board of the League of Women Voters of Williamson County. Throughout the 1980s, Justice Clark supported and advocated for more women to be appointed and elected to the bench. By 1989, it was her turn to slip into the black robe and join the growing ranks of female jurists across the state and country.
“I heard Justice Clark tell a story about how, early in her career as a trial judge in a rural county, she encountered a woman who was angry at being called for jury service and was rude and disrespectful. Judge Clark excused the woman from jury duty, but ordered her to sit and observe the court proceedings for the day,” said Margaret Behm, a partner at Dodson Parker Behm & Caparella, and a long-time friend and colleague of Justice Clark. “The following morning, Judge Clark was surprised to see the woman with her daughter in her courtroom. The woman told Judge Clark: ‘I wanted my daughter to be able to see that there is a woman who can be in charge of this, because I want her to know that she can be anything she wants to be.’ Justice Clark tells this story as an example of how you never know when you have the opportunity to touch someone’s life. But, it is also an example of what it was like to be around Connie Clark, and the effect she had as a jurist, with her common sense, humility, intellect, and ability to connect.”
In 2005, Justice Clark became the fourth woman to serve on the Tennessee Supreme Court, and in 2010 she became the second female Chief Justice. Since 2008, there has been a female majority on the Tennessee Supreme Court. With more than 16 years of service, Justice Clark had the second longest tenure of any woman serving on the Supreme Court. Perhaps more notable, she made a specific point to ensure the doors opened for her earlier by others continue to widen and be accessible to judicial candidates from all backgrounds, genders, and races.
A Statewide and National Leader and Teacher
Justice Clark chaired the Tennessee Judicial Council and was the inaugural chair of the Judicial Evaluation Commission. She previously served as a member of the Board of Directors of the Conference of State Court Administrators. In 2004, she was named one of the 21 members of the ABA Commission on the American Jury, which is dedicated to educating the public about, and reinvigorating the nation's commitment to, jury service.
Forever a teacher, she instructed fellow judges at the National Judicial College, American Academy of Judicial Education, and the American Institute for Justice, in addition to being a frequent guest speaker at various bar and other organizations. Justice Clark served for ten years as an adjunct professor at the Vanderbilt University School of Law and served on the faculty of the Nashville School of Law. As a trial judge, Justice Clark served as Vice-President of the Tennessee Judicial Conference and Dean of the Tennessee Judicial Academy, and was a member of the Supreme Court Commissions on the Rules of Civil Procedure and Technology.
She spoke frequently to civic and leadership groups about the importance of the rule of law and of an independent, accountable judiciary in protecting the constitutional rights accorded all persons and groups.
Ensuring Access to Justice for All Tennesseans
Justice Clark served as the Supreme Court’s liaison to the Access to Justice Commission, from 2014 until her death. During her time on the Court, the Supreme Court declared Access to Justice to be its number one strategic priority. Justice Clark whole-heartedly embraced this initiative.
Justice Clark travelled the state and around the country speaking to attorneys, judges, and other interested groups about the importance of judicial support for such activities. She pioneered the successful Faith and Justice Alliance, which brings attorneys into community faith-based and other civic organizations, where clients may feel more comfortable about sharing their problems than in a traditional courthouse or law firm setting. Today, hundreds of Tennessee houses of worship provide thousands of hours of pro bono legal service to more than 7,000 people a year.
“Justice Clark's long and unwavering support as liaison to the Tennessee Supreme Court's Access to Justice Commission was the foundation to Tennessee being recognized as a national leader in access to justice initiatives,” said Bill Coley, chair of the ATJ Commission. “Her commitment to this work was an inspiration to all, including me, who have joined in this effort. We are committed to continuing this work in a way that honors Justice Clark.”
The ATJ Commission recently achieved its long-term goal of having at least half of all Tennessee attorneys provide pro bono legal services each year. In 2018, 52.85 percent of Tennessee attorneys performed over 640,000 pro bono hours valued at more than $137 million. In addition, the ATJ Commission developed court-approved forms to assist litigants who are representing themselves, including divorce forms and parenting plan forms. These forms have been downloaded hundreds of thousands of times since their creation.
A Lifelong Active Member of the Faith Community
Justice Clark was a lifelong active member of First United Methodist Church in Franklin, where she served as lay leader and member of the finance committee, the Trustees, and the staff parish relations committee. She previously served as chair of the Site Selection and Building Committee during the church’s move to its current location in 2015. She served for the last ten years as an at‑large member to the Tennessee Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church. She was elected in 2012, 2016, 2019, and 2020 as a Tennessee Conference lay delegate to General Conference, the Church’s international legislative body that meets once every four years. She chaired the General Administration Committee in 2016. She also served as Chair of the UMC Southeastern Jurisdiction Committee on Appeals.
Justice Clark served as chair of the United Methodist Publishing House Board and as a member of the Board of Trustees of Martin Methodist Foundation. She previously served as vice chair of the Board of Martin Methodist College in Pulaski, Tennessee, until it became U.T. Southern, as part of the University of Tennessee system, on July 1, 2021.
A Fixture In Tennessee Bar And Community Organizations
Justice Clark always was a busy person. Her record of bar and community service is expansive and includes organizations spanning from those focused on her beloved hometown of Franklin, where her family has lived for ten generations, to many bar associations. She is a past Board member of the Heritage Foundation of Franklin and Williamson County. She was co-chair of the original Steering Committee of Franklin Tomorrow, Inc., and served on its Board of Directors for the first four years of its existence. She served as chair of the City of Franklin Land Use Plan Steering Committee and as citizen chair of the City of Franklin Charter Revision Committee. She is a former member of the Williamson County-Franklin Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors. She served as the first regional Allocations Panel chair of the United Way while serving as a member of the Williamson County United Way Board of Directors.
“Justice Clark embodied the heart and soul of the Franklin community,” said long-time friend and colleague Julian Bibb. “Justice Clark was in love with Franklin all of her life, helping to guide its development and growth, first in her role as City Attorney during the 1980s, and then by taking on volunteer positions with many civic and charitable organizations, including with her church, Franklin First United Methodist Church. Justice Clark was a servant leader who continually gave back to help improve the lives of others in Franklin. From organizations like The Heritage Foundation of Williamson County to organizations that helped bring the community together, like Franklin Tomorrow, Justice Clark has long been recognized for her many contributions to her hometown.”
Justice Clark was a member of the Williamson County Bar Association, Tennessee Bar Association, American Bar Association, Tennessee Lawyers Association for Women (founding member), Lawyers Association for Women, Marion Griffin Chapter (former board member), Nashville Bar Association (former board member and Second Vice President), National Association of Women Judges, and the Nashville, Tennessee, and American Bar Foundations. She was the first woman to serve as chair of the Tennessee Bar Foundation. She also was a member of the Tennessee John Marshall American Inn of Court and the Harry Phillips American Inn of Court.
In total, Justice Clark has served on more than 25 boards and worked with nearly 75 organizations, commissions, advisory groups, or task forces since beginning her legal career in 1979.
Recognition For Her Service
Justice Clark has received many awards recognizing her service to the law, including the Janice M. Holder Access to Justice Award from the Tennessee Alliance for Legal Services; the Tennessee Bar Association’s Justice Frank F. Drowota III Outstanding Judicial Service Award; the Vanderbilt University School of Law Distinguished Service Award; the Grayfred Gray Award from the Tennessee Association of Professional Mediators; the Judge Martha Craig Daughtrey Award from the Lawyers’ Association for Women - Marion Griffin Chapter; the Liberty Bell Award given by the Williamson County Bar Association; and the Pioneer Award from Vision 2020. Clark was also named Appellate Judge of the Year by the Southeastern Chapter of the American Board of Trial Advocates and was inducted into the Nashville YWCA Academy for Women of Achievement.
The family has also announced the following arrangements:
Wednesday, September 29. Justice Clark will lie in state in the Old Supreme Court Chambers of the Tennessee State Capitol from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Thursday, September 30. Visitation will be at the First United Methodist Church in Franklin from 2 to 7 p.m.
Friday, October 1. Visitation will be from 10 to 11:30 a.m. at the First United Methodist Church in Franklin. The funeral will take place at the church at noon. The funeral is expected to be livestreamed from the church’s website. The burial will be private.
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"Justice Clark was a mentor to me. When I first joined the Court, she was especially kind and helpful. We as Tennessee judges are just like family. I already miss her so much as a friend. I am sure there will be times in the future when I will reach for the phone to seek her advice only to realize that her guidance is no longer available. The courts of Tennessee will never be the same."
- Chief Justice Roger A. Page, Tennessee Supreme Court
“Maria and I are deeply saddened by the news of Justice Connie Clark’s passing. Throughout her five decades of public service, including 16 years on the Tennessee Supreme Court, Justice Clark was a fierce advocate for justice and a trailblazer for women in the legal profession. She also made a profound impact on our state as an active member of her church and the Franklin community. We are praying for the Clark family and join Tennesseans in honoring her incredible life and legacy. Flags across the state will fly at half-staff in Justice Clark’s honor.”
- Governor Bill Lee
"Fīat jūstitia ruat cælum is a Latin legal phrase, meaning "Let justice be done though the heavens fall."
Surely today the heavens have fallen, for all of us, with the untimely loss of Justice Cornelia (Connie) Clark.
If Truth is the soul of justice
Justice Clark was certainly the soul of the Supreme Court.
Beloved by her AOC staff
Revered by her colleagues
Purveyor of excellence in everything she undertook
She never had the time; but she made the time.
She never wore her faith on her sleeve; she just lived it, all day, every day.
But her real impact in this world will not only be captured in her well-reasoned legal decisions; but more importantly she will continue to have a living legacy through the hearts and the lives of all those fortunate enough to have known, worked and been inspired to greater service by her."
- Deborah Taylor Tate, Director of the Administrative Office of the Courts
"On behalf of the Tennessee Judicial Conference, I extend our condolences to her family and friends. A gaping hole has been left in the fabric of Tennessee’s judiciary today. As we mourn her loss together as a Conference, let us remember her life and commitment to the law fondly. Justice Clark, Connie to me and to a lot of us, will be greatly missed. She served with excellence, distinction, and integrity in whatever role she took on, whether that role was Supreme Court Justice, Director of the Administrative Office of the Courts, Judge, Vice President of the Judicial Conference or friend. Brilliant intellect, total commitment to the law, service to the judicial branch of government, and an ability to have fun represent who she was and how she should be remembered. On a personal note, Justice Clark was instrumental in my early integration into the Tennessee Judicial Conference. She took me under her wing at one of my first conferences and has been there for me ever since. She was always available if I needed to talk, always willing to listen and give sound advice, and always willing to be a friend and a mentor. In this way she has always been a selfless leader. I will miss her. It is my hope that we, as a Conference, will take the time today to fully reflect on the life and legacy of Justice Clark." - Chancellor J.B. Cox, President, Tennessee Judicial Conference
"Justice Clark was a very special person. I only knew of her before she was appointed Judge for the 21st Judicial District, but I quickly found her to be a hard-working precise Judge on the bench. She was so compassionate in her rulings while being very strict at the same time. I consider her my lifelong friend as well as my "boss." I have so many wonderful memories of Connie and I will forever have them in my heart. She made a wonderful legacy and paved the way for many young women. My thoughts and prayers go out to her family, friends and the legal community." - Janet E. Williams, Retired Clerk & Master, Lewis County
"I have to admit that I was intimidated by Justice Clark when she first became the Liaison to the Access to Justice Commission. Her wisdom and reputation for excellence made me nervous that I wouldn't live up to her expectations. She quickly eased my fears one day when I answered the phone and she greeted me with, "Hi, it's Connie." I thought, "Who is Connie?", and it took me a moment to realize it was Justice Clark. Over the years she became a mentor to me in many ways, some of which she probably never realized. She was a fierce champion for access to justice and truly cared about her fellow Tennesseans. She made me want to be a stronger advocate for access to justice. I hope she knew the impact she has had on my career and life. I will miss her greatly.
- Anne-Louise Wirthlin, Director, Access to Justice, Administrative Office of the Courts
"Justice Clark was a wonderful mentor, advocate, and friend. She pushed me to be better. She demonstrated excellence in all of her actions. Her faith was without question. Not only did she push right through doors, she held them open for lawyers like me. I am so very fortunate to have had the opportunity to clerk for her, learn from her, and call her a friend. I can never repay her for the impact she had on my career and will be forever grateful that she chose to take a chance on me."
- Rachel Park Hurt, former law clerk to Justice Clark, attorney
"Justice Clark was a kind and significant mentor. She would go the extra mile to ensure that those who worked for her achieved success. She was one of the sharpest legal minds in the State. Her death is a huge loss."
- Miranda Jones, former law clerk to Justice Clark, attorney
"Heaven is certainly brighter today....Justice Clark was one of God's best creations."
- Beth Harris, Administrative Office of the Courts
"It was such a privilege to have the opportunity to work alongside Justice Clark for four years as staff to the Access to Justice Commission and the TN Faith & Justice Alliance. She was so inspiring--always kind, even-tempered, and so very generous with her time and energy. One year, we had a class of ATJC student externs, and Justice Clark surprised everyone by not only joining their end-of-externship celebration and sincerely asking about their goals and dreams, but also treating them all to dinner from her own pocket--it was a small example of who was that I will not forget. My husband and I were also fortunate enough to have Justice Clark officiate our wedding which was so very special--I will never forget sitting with her to develop the weddings service or looking over at her teary-eyed during the wedding itself. Justice Clark served as such an inspiration in her work, but also in who she was as a person. I am thankful to have had the opportunity to get to know her so well, and am so thankful for her work, life, faith, service, and legacy."
- Kimi deMent Dean, former Access to Justice, TN Faith & Justice Alliance staff
"I was so fortunate to serve as Justice Clark's very first law clerk for her tenure on the Tennessee Supreme Court. Justice Clark had a sharp legal intellect, a calm and thoughtful demeanor, and a reasoned and humble approach to her service on the bench. She was a woman of great faith, and was dedicated to helping others. She gave me an opportunity that changed the course of my career, and continued to be a close mentor and friend to the end. I am forever grateful to her for investing in me, and I am thankful that her teachings will always be with me. The Tennessee legal system is better because of her service; we lost a giant today."
- Amy Farrar,Former Law Clerk
"The loss of Justice Connie Clark is terribly sad news for lawyers and judges, for the State of Tennessee and its judiciary, and for the citizens of Franklin and Williamson County and the members of Franklin 1st UMC, who knew and loved her as one of their own. Growing up in Franklin and having known her since my childhood, personally, she was one of the very big reasons why I became a lawyer. As well, she was an equally big reason why I decided to join the old Farris, Warfield & Kanaday law firm in Nashville and Franklin. Justice Clark--Connie to her friends (and they were many)--was a rare breed: a doer of many things (all done exceptionally well); an achiever of many firsts; a teacher at heart as well as a lawyer's judge and a judge's judge; and a true servant-leader in the finest and most accurate sense of the term. Perhaps best of all, to many of us, she was a person on whom one could always count: a wise counselor, and a caring, honest and sincerely committed supporter, advisor and true friend. Justice Connie Clark will be missed and mourned by many. God bless her big, great-hearted, wise and kind soul."
- Jack H. (Nick) McCall, longtime friend and fellow church member, and former law firm colleague at Farris, Warfield & Kanaday
"My heart is heavy to hear of the loss of Justice Clark. I have worked with her on the CLE Commission Board the past two years. I appreciated so much about her; in particular, the way she made everyone around her feel welcomed, respected, and heard. She will be deeply missed."
- Concetta Smith, Career Advisor/Colleague
"I first met Justice Connie Clark as the former AOC Director. In that role, she was a steadfast example of leadership as we navigated judicial appointments. I recall her appointment to the Tennessee Supreme Court and thinking what an excellent choice not just for her legal acumen, but absolute grace. It has been my honor and privilege to know her. I join so many in the legal community grieving her loss, but celebrating her life and legacy to the state of Tennessee."
- Michelle Long, Deputy Director, Administrative Office of the Courts
"A hero to many, including me. Her legacy and the lives she touched will live on. Tennessee is a better place because she called our state home."
- Judge Don Ash,Senior Judge, State of Tennessee
"Justice Clark was an exemplary judge, mentor, and role model. Her intellectual rigor, personal determination, and strong sense of fairness inspired everyone who worked with her. She set high standards for herself and for others. She worked tirelessly in the service of the judiciary and the many communities and associations to which she belonged, while maintaining a seemingly endless capacity to attend to and care for those around her. She forged the way for generations of women in the legal profession and left this world a better place than she found it. I will always be grateful that I had the opportunity to learn from her personally and through her example."
- Ann Mikkelsen, former law clerk, attorney
"My relationship with Connie Clark began when she was appointed to take my Father's place on the Circuit Court for the 21st Judicial District which included Williamson County. She hit the ground running and never slowed down. If you were scheduled to be in front of Judge Clark as an attorney, you had better be prepared because she always was. She never played favorites and treated everyone fairly. When I became a judge, I called her frequently for advice, and she always took the time to answer my questions. When I was interested in applying for Senior Judge, I went to Connie ,and she was instrumental my appointment by the the Supreme Court. Connie was a great jurist but she had an even bigger heart. I will miss her greatly."
- Robert E. Lee Davies, Senior Judge, State of Tennessee
"I met Justice Clark in 1980, when I moved to Franklin. She was a young city attorney in Franklin and I was in law school and also a magistrate with Williamson County. She became a friend and mentor. I campaigned for her when she ran for state representative. I went door to door strolling my newborn baby telling my neighbors to vote for this highly intelligent caring woman. She lost that election but she soon won circuit court judge position. I practiced in her court throughout the district, after passing the bar. Two of our counties had not experienced female lawyers before and certainly no female judges. Several of these long days in court taking three hours of travel, we would ride together especially when it snowed. These long drives were my favorite times I had with her because she was a sincere friend and confidant. She cheered me on when I ran and won the Public Defender position. I will miss her greatly. Well done thy good and faithful servant."
- Vanessa Pettigrew Bryan,Retired Public Defender, 21st Judicial District
"I have known Justice Clark since I was a young person in Franklin, Tennessee. She was an inspiration and a wonderful mentor to me. She encouraged me to decide to attend Vanderbilt University and supported me in every career choice I have ever made. She was a loyal friend to my mother and to me. She had an amazing heart and was always interested in making things better for others. She had a wonderful and distinguished career, but she always made time for those that she came to know along the way. Heaven has gained a wonderful soul! Thank you, Justice Clark, for inspiring so many of us and making our lives better for having known you!"
- Beth Hickman, City Clerk, City of Oak Ridge, Tennessee
"On behalf of the Knoxville Bar Association (KBA), we wish to express heartfelt condolences to the court family, relatives, and friends of the late Justice Cornelia Clark of the Tennessee Supreme Court. It is with deep sadness that the KBA has learned of the death of one of the brightest judges and judicial administrators in Tennessee’s history. Justice Clark served the bench with boundless dedication, utmost humility, and commitment for over thirty years. She was a pioneer for access to justice issues in Tennessee and dedicated her life to the cause of equal justice for all. She worked tirelessly to champion and support those efforts at every opportunity. Let us collectively remember Justice Clark and let her lifetime of contributions serve as both a model and inspiration for us all. The void left by her passing will be difficult to fill."
- Knoxville Bar Association
"I had the honor and privilege of serving as Justice Clark's senior clerk for nine years, from 2011 to 2020, and I worked with her for more than twenty years. Her dedication to public service and to the Tennessee judiciary was unsurpassed. She also had an unmatched work ethic and she never viewed any task as beneath her. I remember walking into the break room of the Supreme Court building when she was director of the administrative office of the courts and seeing her cleaning up the leftovers and dishes from an earlier lunch meeting held in the room. She was an excellent, conscientious, and fair judge, committed to the rule of law and equal justice under law and willing to go where the law led, as she would say, when ruling on a case, even when the ruling or result was not popular. She had an amazing grasp of the practical ramifications of court decisions, and her attention to detail never ceased to amaze me. She loved including footnotes in her opinions with either nuggets of insight for future cases or limitations on the ruling in that particular case. For the Court, she served as consensus builder and the embodiment of institutional memory and wisdom. She highly valued the Court as an institution and was always ready and willing to do anything she could to benefit the Court. To her law clerks, she was a teacher, a mentor, and a judge who would press us to defend the draft written legal memoranda or opinions we submitted or the positions we took in conversations with her. This process helped all of us become better lawyers. To me personally, she was a friend and a mentor. She showed me grace and compassion during times of personal illness or loss of loved ones. She shared in happy times, like my wedding, which she officiated. I am thankful for the opportunity and privilege of having known her and learned from her. The people of Tennessee and the Tennessee judiciary have lost a great judge and a great person today, but Justice Clark's amazing legacy will live on in her family, her colleagues, her friends and all those who knew and loved her."
- Lisa McGuffy, Former Senior Law Clerk; Staff Attorney to TN Supreme Court
"The professionalism, compassion, and eloquence Justice Clark exhibited on a daily basis is unmatched. Her thoughtful and thorough attention to detail was apparent in every task she tackled. She was never too busy to discuss and analyze a pressing legal issue, and I am humbled to have had the privilege to partake in her vast knowledge of so many topics. She also took time to acknowledge and celebrate personal milestones with people. Less than 24 hours after the birth of my second son, Justice Clark sent me the sweetest congratulatory email. It meant so much. Simply, I am grateful to have known her. Her accomplishments will continue to influence and shape the legal profession in TN for years to come. Rest in heaven's glory, Justice Clark."
- Michelle Consiglio-Young, Director and Counsel, Office of Intergovernmental Affairs, AOC
"I was honored to have known and worked with Justice Clark, an eighth-generation Tennessean whose contributions to the judiciary and the people of Tennessee will be felt for generations to come. On the bench, Tennesseans could be confident she was fair, impartial, and thoughtful in applying the law; lawyers could expect a formidable judge. We always advised our folks to be overprepared before appearing in Justice Clark’s courtroom. She’ll be ready- you better be, too. Off the bench, she was involved in nearly every program and project in the court system, including the Access to Justice Initiative where she was committed to ensuring the legal system is open and accessible to all Tennesseans. She mentored countless students and encouraged public service, and she was always happy to administer the oath of office to our new attorneys. You could be sure she lived by her own words, “It’s always good to remember where you came from,” which she did by serving her hometown, her church, and her state. While she will be deeply missed, she will be remembered and celebrated by not only those who knew her personally, but by all the beneficiaries of her service to Tennessee."
- Herbert Slatery, TN Attorney General
"Tennessee Supreme Court Justice CorneliaA. Clark served our great state with dedication as judge for more than 30 years and 16 years on the Tennessee Supreme Court. Our prayers are with Justice Clark’s family and friends during this sad time."
- Tre Hargett, TN Secretary of State
"My heart is saddened this morning to learn of the passing of Tennessee Supreme Court Justice CorneliaA. Clark. She was an inspiration for women like me who desire to be a part of the judiciary. Rest well Justice Clark. Thank you for your inspiration and service."
- i'Ashea Myles,Attorney, Bone McAllister
"Justice Clark was a brilliant jurist, a champion of women’s rightful place in the legal profession, a committed advocate for access to justice. Her passing is a loss. May we each pick up the mantle & continue her good work to create a judicial system open & available to all."
- Marcus Floyd, Nashville Public Defender
"We are heartbroken at the loss of Tennessee Supreme Court Justice Cornelia Clark. A past YWCA board chair, Connie Clark was a role model to women, girls and all people in Nashville and throughout Tennessee. She will be greatly missed." - YWCA Nashville & Middle Tennessee
"Justice Connie Clark was a remarkable jurist, an unwavering public servant, and a kind soul. Her leadership amid a challenge to judicial independence will be remembered as one of the proudest moments in the Court’s history. She will be sorely missed by all who knew her." - Jeff Yarbo, TN State Senator, Attorney
"Justice Connie Clark devoted her life to serving Tennesseans, and it is with a heavy heart that we mourn her passing. Justice Clark was a trailblazer in Tennessee’s legal community and has left a lasting impact on our state. Please join me in praying for her family." - Marsha Blackburn, U.S. Senator from Tennessee
"I am saddened to learn of the passing of Justice Connie Clark. She devoted much of her career to serving Tennesseans and had a profound impact on many in our state. My prayers are with her family and friends." - Jason Mumpower, TN Comptroller
"I cannot imagine a greater loss for our state. Working with Justice Clark on the Access to Justice Commission has been one of the greatest honors of my career. The trails that she blazed over the years for women in the legal profession as well as in the access to justice communities will be but a small part of the legacy she leaves behind. She was a brilliant, dedicated, and passionate public servant. She was an even better human being. Rest in Peace, Justice Clark." - Judge Alex McVeagh, ATJ Commission & Hamilton County General Sessions Court
"Those of us in Williamson County/21st Judicial District who had the privilege of appearing before Judge Clark are better lawyers because of her impeccably high standards we carry with us to this day. She was always prepared. It was an honor and a great memory to have her swear me in as our juvenile court judge in 2012. We will all miss her." - Judge Sharon Guffee,Juvenile Court Judge for Williamson County
"I was overwhelmed with sadness this morning when I learned of Justice Clark's passing. She was naturally diplomatic and a trailblazer, which are terms that do not always blend together. She was an architect of compromise. She was always gracious displaying well-reasoned decisions. Her thoughtfulness and thoroughness benefited all Tennesseans. She will be missed by lawyers, judges, her friends in the Methodist faith, and her community." - Judge Lynda Jones, President, Tennessee General Sessions Judge Conference & Davidson County General Sessions Court
"My relationship with Justice Clark was like the relationship so many of us in the legal community had with her--it was special. She made it special. She was my mentor and my friend, and my heart hurts that she is gone. Justice Clark is indeed deserving of the many accolades and tributes to her memory. She was a devoted public servant who embodied integrity and dignity. I will treasure the wisdom she shared and the confidence she instilled in me and will always be grateful I was fortunate enough to know her and work with her."
- Rachel Harmon, AOC General Counsel
"Justice Clark was an amazing person and I was privileged to know her and even more so to call her a friend- I know we all feel this way. She leaves a profound legacy that has inspired so many of us. Access to Justice for everyone was always so close to her heart and I will strive to carry on her good work. I look forward to sharing wonderful stories about her with her huge circle of friends and colleagues as we remember her so fondly."
- Gail Vaughn Ashworth,Attorney/Past Chair Access to Justice Commission
"Justice Clark lead by example. She was tireless in working to improve the judicial system and inspired others to do the same. Her wisdom and wit will be sorely missed. I pray for her family at home and in the judiciary."
- Sandy Garrett,Board of Professional Responsibility Chief Disciplinary Counsel
"Justice Clark will be remembered for her years of exemplary public service to the State of Tennessee and her contributions to the legal profession and her community. I also fondly remember our shared enthusiasm for college women's basketball and will miss seeing her at the Vanderbilt women's basketball games. Our thoughts and prayers are with her family and many friends."
- Bill Young, Former Director of the Administrative Office of the Courts
"I am saddened to learn of the passing of Justice Clark. For over ten years, I had the opportunity to see her dedication to justice during oral arguments when the Court brought the SCALES program to the Tennessee American Legion Boys State program. I will miss the tough questions she asked during those arguments and talking with her during the Boys State program. I send my deepest condolences to her family and colleagues. Thank you for your service to Tennessee Justice Clark."
- Amos Scott Powers
"For 26 years I served as Justice Connie Clark’s assistant. She hired me as her secretary in 1994, when she was a trial judge in the 21st Judicial District (Hickman, Lewis, Perry & Williamson Counties). She fast became a teacher/mentor, but most precious to me was that she became a close friend. I had a brief “hiccup” in my service alongside Connie. I went to work in a Nashville law firm for a year and a half (1998-99), until I received a call from Connie asking me if I would consider working for her again, but in her capacity as the Director of the Administrative Office of the Courts. So, in June of 1999, we became a team again! In October 2005, she was appointed by Governor Phil Bredesen to serve on the Tennessee Supreme Court. She again asked me to take on a new role with her—a role that had been a longtime dream of hers. I was more than thrilled to work in a court setting with her again. It has been one of the highest honors of my life to have worked side by side with her all these years. I’ve read many of the comments here, and I will attest that she most certainly was always well prepared. She was never a procrastinator. She was a perfectionist. She was always on her toes; she always crossed her “t”s and dotted her “i”s; and she was sharp as a tack! She expected the same of her staff. I always enjoyed observing her during court proceedings. She truly was an excellent jurist! She was fair and unbiased and she always followed the law that she was so very passionate about! She was always willing to lift others up—a great encourager. She was a good listener. She was a great advisor. Though she gave up teaching long ago, her teacher spirit remained in everything she did. I truly believe she enjoyed guiding people and helping them to achieve their goals. She loved to watch others succeed. And yes, she gladly held the doors open for those who came behind her. She touched so many lives, and I don’t think she truly realized the huge impact she had on others. She was passionate about the people she loved, the community she lived in, her church, and her job. She excelled in everything she endeavored. And now, back to the most precious part of my relationship with Connie. Connie treated me like family. We celebrated each other’s victories and triumphs, and each other’s griefs and losses. She never forgot my birthday. She never forgot administrative professional’s day (formerly “secretary’s day”). She always remembered me at Christmas, and times in the past, my sons as well (when they were very young). She shared her family with me, and I shared mine with her. We were there for each other when we lost siblings and parents. We always knew we could call one another anytime day or night, and we would be there for each other. And we were, until the very end. There was nothing I wouldn’t do for her, and nothing she wouldn’t do for me. She had a servant’s heart and always thought of others before herself. I could write for days about the many precious memories and special moments I had the privilege and honor to share with her. I am grateful God brought us together years ago. What a gift! The impact she had on my life is huge, as is the hole I now have in my heart from this great loss. I know she will hear the words “Well done, my good and faithful servant! Well done!” (Matthew 25:23) because that’s exactly what she was—a good and faithful servant. She most definitely will be missed!!
- Lisa Hazlett-Wallace,Executive Administrative Assistant to Justice Clark
"Justice Clark was a remarkable woman and judge. I really cannot imagine the Tennessee judiciary without her. I will miss her greatly and will be forever grateful for the guidance and support she gave me."
- Libby Sykes, Former Director of the Administrative Office of the Courts
"My heart goes out to the family members and many friends of this truly amazing woman. Not only is her mark on our judicial system without question, Justice Clark is also a wonderful example of a kind and compassionate human being. She will be missed."
- Marie Crosson, Executive Director, TN Assoc. of Recovery Court
"Many years ago I was privileged to hear Justice Clark (Connie) present an uplifting speech to the Legal Aid community. I dubbed it her “torch” speech and enjoyed hearing versions of it over the years. Thought-provoking, but thoughtful, she thanked the attorneys for their passion and self-less devotion to justice; she shared her true heart, deep intellect coupled with compassion. I think that is when she told me President Kennedy’s inaugural address was a favorite of hers. In her honor today I reread that speech; it brings comfort. And that call to action is exemplified by her life: all of the many gifts of her tireless energy and example. Her selfless leadership, the disarming humor to diffuse vitriolic situations, her uncanny ability to understand so many perspectives simultaneously. Justice Clark has spoken so eloquently admiring other women leaders who reached back; she has always done so for all of us attorneys.
Her legacy, and her gift to each of us, is a challenge:
•To be the teacher
•To be the student listener
•To be the problem solver
•To be the torch, and light the world.
- Marcy Easton,Former Chair, Access to Justice Commission; Past President Tennessee Bar Association
"Justice Clark was instrumental in the development of parenting classes for divorcing parents who had children. She gladly participated in an early pilot program with the Dept. of Mental Health which showed the benefits of such a program for children of divorce."
-Pamela Boyd, attorney
"Justice Ginsburg once said, 'If you want to be a true professional, you will do something outside yourself. Something to repair tears in your community. Something to make life a little better for people less fortunate than you. That’s what I think a meaningful life is - living not for oneself but for one’s community.' Justice Ginsburg’s guidance captures perfectly the philosophy of Connie Clark. I met her about 45 years ago when, of all things, we served on the Tennessee Democratic Executive Committee together. Over those 45 years, I watched her irrepressible service to the state she loved and, especially, to her beloved judicial branch. In the last 13 years, I have been privileged to have a front row seat to her passionate work for equal access to justice, not just in Tennessee but across our country. I have been proud to watch people crowd around her at the ABA Equal Justice Conference and other national conferences. People would whisper, 'There’s Justice Clark. She is amazing.' Young lawyers would quickly decide they wanted to be like her. At the Court’s swearing in ceremonies for new lawyers, her voice would often quiver as she talked about the plight of those who needed pro bono representation, revealing the depth of her passion. It was obvious that she had a heart full of love for those who needed her help. Try as we may, I don’t think any of us will ever know the full depth and breadth of her enduring legacy."
- Buck Lewis, Former Chair, Access to Justice Commission
"Connie’s passing is a devastating loss to our entire community. I was privileged to practice in Connie’s courtroom both in Williamson County’s Circuit Court and later in the Supreme Court of Tennessee. She taught so much to so many of us. In addition to being brilliant, she was a model of ethics and professionalism and everything a lawyer (and a Christian) should be. I was so blessed that my mentor and hero also became my friend. Deepest condolences to Cathy, Lulu and all of the family. Connie will be deeply missed."
- Lisa Carson,Mentee and friend
" I am flooded with reflections on the incredible impact Justice Connie Clark has had on me as a lawyer and as a human being trying to do good in our world. I will never forget walking into my office at TALS on my first day in 2013, full of excitement about getting to work in the space where my passion and expertise intersect, yet feeling a little uncertain about my ability to lead our statewide ATJ support organization to the next level. In that moment, I looked down to notice a letter on my desk-from Justice Clark- offering her support and encouragement. Shortly thereafter, I met with AOC Director, Libby Sykes, who gave me a warm welcome and then shared that Justice Clark asked her to ensure I had support in learning the ropes. I know countless others have had this same experience of knowing that Connie Clark was quietly lifting all boats, setting us up for success in our roles to advance access to justice because ensuring justice for all was her passion. In 2020, when Justice Clark received TALS’ Janice M. Holder Access to Justice Award (beautiful nomination by Justice Lee and Director Tate), she said these prophetic words, “I believe a community is only as strong as the justice it can provide to the most vulnerable citizens. In the midst of several crises we are facing today, where so many are vulnerable, it’s more important than ever that we keep marching together to make real the elusive, often broken, but always fundamentally critical promise of liberty and justice for all. This is my passion.” Let’s commit in her Honor to keep marching together, in the way she modeled, to make real our Constitution’s promise of liberty and justice for all. I so love this Spoken Word presentation of the Holder Award to Justice Clark from last year. It is linked here."
- Ann Pruitt,Executive Director Tennessee Alliance for Legal Services
"Justice Clark was fair and just. It was an honor and privilege to know her, work with her, and argue before her. She challenged each attorney before her to be better; better at our craft and better at our service to our respective communities. Her impact will resonate for years among the judiciary and the bar. Godspeed. We are fortunate to have such stellar legal scholars and well rounded, compassionate members of the Tennessee Judiciary as Connie Clark."
- Cameron Hyder, Attorney
"I never knew or met Justice Clark, but this is a shock. I know that she served our profession with dignity, honesty and courtesy. I can say that thousands of colleagues around the State, most of whom, like me, never met Justice Clark, feel a big void as the result of her untimely passing. Eternal rest grant unto her, oh Lord, and let Your perpetual light shine upon her."
- Francis X. Santore, Jr., Attorney
"As a part of the Court's legal staff for years, I saw first-hand Justice Clark's keen intellect, work ethic, attention to detail, and concern about the practical implications of the Court's decisions, play out in many cases. She was especially skilled at being able to focus on the small details and nuances in cases and in her administrative responsibilities and yet not lose sight of the big picture. But more importantly for me personally, I had in her a warm, approachable, and caring mentor and friend. After experiencing a family tragedy a couple of years ago, I received a wonderful note from her. I will never forget that act of kindness. We had such a gift in her."
"It was an honor, privilege, and pleasure to work with and learn from Justice Clark. She was a teacher and a mentor, and her lessons guide me to this day. Justice Clark’s passion and faith were evident in the way she lived her life. She enriched the lives of those around her and I am grateful to have been one of those people. Our thoughts and prayers are with Justice Clark’s family, colleagues, and dear friends." - Lisa Perlen,Tennessee Board of Law Examiners
"While the news of Connie’s passing came early Friday morning, I could not bring myself to write anything until now. I think that I didn’t want to acknowledge her passing — such an incredible loss of an amazing, brilliant boss, mentor and friend. I will be forever grateful for her support and encouragement. When she was AOC Director, she asked me to be the AOC Technology Director. I was a little shocked and wasn’t sure I was up for the job but after we talked about it, she convinced me that I could do it and do it well. She had a gift for asking you in a way that it was hard to say no. It is also interesting to note that we had this conversation while Rachel, then two years old, was with me in her office playing. Connie had asked to meet on a day that Rachel was not in preschool but Connie did not hesitate and just told me to bring her too — being supportive of a working mother. Later, as a Supreme Court Justice, Connie also volunteered to go to Rachel’s four-year-old preschool class for their career days to talk with them about the Tennessee justice system and being a judge. She was always so gracious and generous with her time even when it was such a precious commodity. Connie was totally committed to excellence and certainly expected that of those around her. She never asked more of you than she was already doing and was always challenging you to be and do your very best. I was so honored and thankful that she spoke at my retirement celebration in December 2019. Her kind and complimentary words meant so very much to me and I will carry that memory with me fondly. I am so very sad that she has passed just when she was on the verge of getting to travel and possibly doing somethings just for her. She was definitely the quintessential public servant — serving on the Supreme Court and numerous boards, commissions and other church and community positions. I mourn with her many friends, colleagues and family members. I know that heaven shines a bit brighter with her light but my heart aches for my personal loss. Rest in peace Justice Connie Clark." - Ann Lynn Walker,AOC Technology Director-Retired
"Whenever I saw her, and those occasions were not many, she shook my hand strongly, and she looked right in my eyes, and she recognized me. I argued a couple of cases before her at the Court, but she was also a frequent presence at the Law School. Just how many new lawyers has she sworn in? Thousands. What an incredible loss to the Legal Community, to female lawyers, and to law students! And what a legacy of women in law she leaves! She was involved with the Juvenile Dependency Law Committee, my passion. My condolences to AOC and to, her immediate family." - Christina Zawisza, Emeritus Professor of Law, U of M Law
"It was my privilege to serve for several years with Justice Clark on the Tennessee Judicial Council. She was an excellent jurist, a good friend, and a Lady in all respects. I shall miss her, and I extend my sincere condolences to her family." - William R. Bruce,Colleague and friend
"It deeply saddened my heart to hear of the passing of Justice Clark. She was such a people person, and a gently spoken person. She was one who cared, and showed it in her demeanor. She will be sorely missed by all who knew her. Well done Justice Cornelia "Connie" Clark." - Patricia Brown,Administrative Office of the Courts
"I feel so blessed that I got to know and work with Justice Clark over the past few years. She was a wonderful person to work with. Always prepared and thoughtful in her response to any question. She gave generously of her time and talents; even with her many commitments you could be assured that whenever she agreed to an effort, she always gave it her full attention. I learned that she knew my Aunt who had served on the Colorado Supreme Court after my Aunt passed early this year and she shared her admiration and memories of her. I am forever thankful to Justice Clark, and others, who assured that the doors remained open and will strive throughout my career to show honor to that leadership in the best possible way, by emulating her commitment to service, fairness and keeping the doors open! I will miss you my friend." - Ann McGauran, TN State Architect
"My remembrance of Justice Cornelia A. Clark is not special, but she was one special lady who deserves all the accolades in her name. Thank you for this forum to say why I regard her as special. We began practice about the same time, in adjoining judicial districts. Over the years, we had encounters in trial and appellate court and in lawyer functions. She was one of the kindest, one of the most pleasant, persons I have known. She was a person of excellence in character and in each endeavor I saw her make. She was of course a leader in integrating women into legal leadership positions, something long overdue. She was an exemplary family person, Tennessean, and lawyer. She will be greatly missed." - N. Houston Parks, Attorney
"In a card she gave me for my law school graduation, Justice Clark wrote: 'The robe of graduation is symbolic. And maybe, in the future, you will wear a similar one again. You can be a judge, or the President of the United States, or anything you want to be! But never forget your calling to help others as well.'
While Justice Clark has had many tremendously significant impacts on my life over the last decade, these few sentences summarize two of the most profound--the lesson to go after the seemingly impossible, and to never forget the greater call to serve others. In so many ways, Justice Clark inspired me to envision and create paths for myself and my future that I had never previously dreamed of. She did this nearly ten years ago at our first breakfast at Pucketts when I came prepared with a list of questions about what it meant to be a lawyer, and again about six years later when she asked me to be her law clerk (and many times in between and after). However, I know that the impact she had on me in that way was not at all unique. I am one of a countless number of women she has done this for. Her example, grit, intellect, conviction, humility, and friendship have inspired many and cleared eyes to previously clouded futures. We are all better for it.
And, at every step along the way, Justice Clark served others. She truly had the definition of a servant heart. She gave generously of her time, as so many others have mentioned here, expecting, and truly hoping for, nothing in return. She took her responsibilities as a servant to the public with a level of seriousness and humility that was unmistakable--and also took seriously the job of keeping the snacks stocked at her house and attending sporting events for her great nephews and nieces. Her service to her church and life lived with great faith are a testament to the values she held tightly. She inspired us all to use our gifts for a greater good--to help others.
I already miss her wise guidance, our conversations over coffee, complex discussions about the law, and I long for all of the lessons she had still to teach me. It is very difficult to imagine my life and career without her, but I am so grateful for the time she so generously gave me. She was a superhero in my life, and she will be missed forever." - Allyson (Ally) Lynch - Law Clerk and Mentee
"I met Connie - Justice Clark - when I was a new lawyer who had joined L.A.W. I knew she was someone very special, and I was so fortunate to have had her example through my years of practice. My thoughts and my prayers go to her family." - Mary Bers - Lawyer in the Nashville Bar
"It was my privilege and honor to serve as Justice Clark's senior law clerk for her first six years on the Supreme Court. Justice Clark's commitment to the rule of law was deep and unwavering. She engaged in the highest level of critical thinking while never forgetting the real-world impact that judicial opinions have on the lives of Tennesseans. Her devotion to justice and to the quality of Tennessee's jurisprudence was unsurpassed. For those fortunate enough to work for her, she inspired excellence, dedication, and precision. Tennessee's courts, as well as all Tennesseans, have lost an enormous champion. Our collective deep sorrow will continue for a very long time." - Karin Waterman -Former Senior Law Clerk
"I have known Justice Connie Clark well and favorably since she began to practice law. In a word she was simply the best in her service as a jurist, attorney, administrator, citizen leader of multiple important civic organizations, friend and counselor to so many (of which it was my great honor to be one), and the leader of a 10 generation family from her beloved home town, Franklin. If ever there was born a true servant leader, it would be Justice Connie Clark. May she Rest In Peace." - Lew Conner