Clarence Cleary was married to acclaimed American author Beverly Cleary for 64 years before his death in 2004 at the age of 94. His wife, best known for creating beloved children’s characters in books such as “Beezus and Ramona” and “Henry Huggins,” passed away on March 25, 2021, at age 104. Her publishing company, Harper Collins Publishers, announced that she died in Carmel, California, where she’d lived since the 1960s.
During an interview with Jenna Bush Hager in 2016, Beverly Cleary was asked whether she was excited to celebrate her 100th birthday. She jokingly responded that she “didn’t do it on purpose” because as a high school freshman, she and a friend had decided that 80 seems like the ideal “cut-off date.” Cleary also noted that, when she reflected back on her writing career, it made her proud to know that children love her books.
Her husband was not a writer but appeared to have his own skill in the arts. When Clarence died in 2004, the family recalled his love of music and praised his singing. The short obituary stated that Clarence’s “songs and beautiful voice will be missed by all those who knew him.”
Here’s what you need to know about Clarence Cleary:
1. Clarence & Beverly Cleary Met at a Dance at UC Berkeley
Beverly Bunn Cleary had at least one marriage proposal before she ever met Clarence Cleary. In her memoir “My Own Two Feet,” Clearly described how her mother encouraged her to date an older man she referenced by a fictitious name, Gerhart. The two met at a dance when Cleary was in high school but she was not interested in him.
As biographer Jennifer Peltak detailed in her 2005 book, Cleary felt Gerhart was controlling and had nothing in common with her. But Cleary’s mother often invited Gerhart to the house and he continued to pursue a relationship. In “My Own Two Feet,” Cleary went so far as to describe her behavior toward Gerhart as “horrid” but that he was “unshakeable.” He even asked Cleary to marry him, but she said no.
Clearly put distance between herself and Gerhart when she moved to southern California to attend Chaffey College in 1934. Two years later, she was accepted to the University of California at Berkeley. She studied English with the goal of becoming a librarian.
While a student at Berkeley, Beverly Cleary had an active social life that often included attending dances on campus. California Magazine noted in a 2010 feature that she “dated an English physicist [and] got duped by a suitor who happened to be married” before she met her future husband.
She wrote about meeting Clarence for the first time at a university dance, describing him as “kind, gentle, quiet and, best of all, single. I made sure of that.” She added that he was tall and thin with black hair and blue eyes. Clarence Cleary was six years older than Beverly and was studying economics and history at Berkeley.
In “My Own Two Feet,” Beverly Cleary shared a comical memory of Clarence from the night of her college graduation. She recalled Clarence picking her up wearing a tuxedo but without the bow tie because he wasn’t sure how to put it on. Cleary wrote that a gas station attendant tied it for him when the couple stopped to fill up the gas tank.
2. Clarence Cleary Used a Cigar Band Until He Could Buy an Engagement Ring
happy 104th birthday to beverly cleary, who eloped to get married to her husband clarence because he was a Catholic and her presbyterian parents didn’t approve
they were married 64 years, until clarence’s death in 2004 pic.twitter.com/llMuTv1ET2
— tommy (@theghissilent) April 12, 2020
Beverly Cleary was raised Protestant in Yamhill, Oregon. Her parents didn’t approve of Clarence Cleary because he was Catholic. Jennifer Peltak wrote in the biography “Beverly Cleary” that Beverly’s mother tried to convince her daughter to end the relationship with Clarence and that Clarence’s first meeting with Beverly’s parents was “not pleasant.”
But the young couple was not deterred. They maintained a long-distance relationship after graduating from Berkeley. She went on to earn a degree in Library Science from the University of Washington before accepting a job as a librarian in Yakima, Washington. Clarence was working in Sacramento at the time and they continued to visit each other on weekends, according to biographer Jennifer Peltak.
Clarence Cleary proposed to Beverly in 1939 but he couldn’t afford an engagement ring at the time. Beverly Cleary explained in her memoir “My Own Two Feet” that Clarence slipped a cigar band on her finger and she accepted. Beverly also noted that she held on to the cigar band even after it was replaced by a real ring.
But her parents weren’t accepting of the union, prompting the couple to elope during the summer of 1940. According to the Educational Book and Media Association, the Clearys tied the knot at a church in Reno, Nevada. The couple eventually settled in Oakland, California. Clarence worked for the U.S. Navy in a “cost inspection office” while Beverly worked part-time at a book store. After World War II began, Beverly found work as a librarian again, this time with the Army in Oakland.
3. Clarence Cleary Bought His Wife a Pencil Sharpener to Encourage Her to Write Her First Book
Clarence Cleary appears to have always been supportive of his wife’s desire to become an author. Beverly Cleary explained in interviews over the years that while she was working as a librarian in Yakima, Washington, in 1939, children used to complain to her that they couldn’t relate to any of the characters in the books that were available. That experience inspired her to write those types of books herself but it took a few years before she followed through.
In 1948, Clarence and Beverly moved back to Berkeley when he accepted a job as an auditor at the University of California. The couple discovered a ream of typing paper that the previous homeowners had left behind. Beverly interpreted it as a sign that she was meant to start writing.
But she struggled with writer’s block. She explained in “My Own Two Feet” that she told her husband she couldn’t write because she didn’t have any sharp pencils. Clarence responded by bringing home a pencil sharpener the very next day. Inspiration finally struck in January 1949, California Magazine reported, and she created her first character, Henry Huggins.
The Clearys sat down for an interview with the New York Times in 1999 after the release of her final children’s book, “Ramona’s World.” The newspaper noted that Beverly Cleary was very humble about her worldwide success and didn’t answer the “fuss” around the latest book. Clarence Cleary, however, appeared to want to praise his wife. He started to tell the reporter, “If I tell you some of the honors Beverly has received in the last few years…” but Beverly stopped him. “Clarence! Don’t you dare!”
4. The Clearys Chose to Live Modestly Despite Becoming Multimillionaires
The Clearys certainly never struggled monetarily after her books began to take off. According to Oregon Public Broadcasting, her books have sold more than 91 million copies. In addition, her stories were translated into 29 different languages, Harper Collins Publishers said. Beverly Cleary’s personal wealth was estimated to be about $50 million at the time of her death in 2021, according to Celebrity Net Worth.
But despite that financial success, Clarence and Beverly Cleary had a modest lifestyle and gave their children a normal upbringing. Their son Malcolm remarked during a special for Oregon Public Broadcasting that the only difference he noticed between himself and his friends was that his house needed a larger mailbox. Beverly Cleary received massive amounts of mail from fans and a regular mailbox couldn’t fit them all.
The couple spent much of their life in Carmel, California. According to Harper Collins Publishers, the Clearys moved there in the 1960s.
People magazine reported in 1988 that Clarence and Beverly lived “quietly in a condominium in Carmel.” The New York Times reported in 1995 that the Clearys were multimillionaires but lived in a “modest house overlooking the golf courses of Carmel Valley.”
5. Clarence & Beverly Cleary Had Twins In 1955
Clarence and Beverly Cleary were the proud parents of twins. Malcolm and Marianne were born in 1955. The children served as inspiration for one of their mother’s books, “Mitch and Amy.”
The book, which was first published in 1967, told the story of a set of twins who struggle to get along until they team up to defend themselves against a school bully. Beverly Cleary told the Washington Post that her children weighed in and influenced aspects of the storyline. “My son pointed out that you cannot ride a bike with a banana in your hip pocket. So I did take that out,” she told the newspaper in 2016. “I didn’t want my character to have a squashed banana in his pocket.”
People magazine reported in 1988 that Malcolm pursued a career similar to that of his father. While Clarence Cleary worked as an accountant, Malcolm became a banker. Daughter Marianne played the cello and became a professional musician.
During an interview with NPR in 2016, Marianne Cleary recalled her mother’s discipline when she was working on a new book. “My ancestors crossed the plains in covered wagons. And so my mother is from Pioneer stock,” Marianne explained. “When she would write every morning, she would sit down after breakfast, my brother and I would go to school, and she’d write, till noon or so. She never waited for inspiration, she just got to it.”