SULLIVAN, Clara Elaine, née Varner passed away on July 24, 2019 at the age
of 95. She is survived by daughters, Daphne Scharar of Houston, TX;
Diane Sullivan of Arlington, MA; Donna Donza of Burlington, VT; Deborah
Keith of Santa Rosa, CA; Deidre Hogan of Darien, CT; Delia Sullivan of
New York, NY; Denise Flaherty of Norfolk, MA; Dorinda Kuziak of Old
Lyme, CT and sons, John Sullivan of Bedford, TX; William Sullivan of North
Hollywood, CA and Frederick Sullivan of Nashville, TN. She is
predeceased by her husband, John J. Sullivan Jr., MD, a Nassau
County thoracic and cardiovascular surgeon.
Clara was born on December 14, 1923, a Louisiana farm girl in the small
town of Pineville, the youngest of eight children. Her father worked as an
iron foundry foreman and her mother tended to the domestic chores of farm
life and raising children. She attended Saint Xavier High School in the
neighboring town of Tioga and, following in the footsteps of two older
sisters, Clara attended the New Orleans nursing school, Hotel-Dieu, run by
the Daughters of Charity, a religious order of nuns, and affiliated with
Charity Hospital. Clara spent her last year of nursing school gaining work
experience at McCloskey General Hospital in Temple, Texas where she
nursed several wounded World War II soldiers.
Upon completion of nursing school, Clara was informed by a nun at Hotel-
Dieu about a Public Health Nursing scholarship offered by Catholic
University in Washington, D.C. When the Western Union telegram arrived
notifying her family that Clara had been awarded the scholarship, her
mother broke down in tears. Clara offered to stay home and get a local
hospital job, but her mother declared: “You get your education!” She
became the only child in her family to earn a Bachelor’s degree and worked
in the D.C. area, including immunizing prisoners in its prison system.
Clara began a courtship with Army Captain John J. Sullivan Jr., a surgical
resident from Watertown, New York, who was then serving in Aberdeen,
Maryland. He met Miss Varner while visiting his childhood friend, Bob
Weldon, a law student at Catholic University who was dating her
roommate, Molly Clarke. Temporarily separated by his transfer to Fort
Campbell, Kentucky, John sent Clara numerous letters and would visit on
his free time. At the end of one visit, he said, “I’ll give you a ring next time
I’m in town”. Then, on his next visit, as she was expecting nothing more
than a phone call, Clara was surprised with an engagement ring.
A 1948 wedding in Washington D.C. was followed by several moves,
prompted by her husband’s medical residencies, including Riverdale, New
York and Worcester, Massachusetts. Then, in 1957, John and Clara
purchased a home in Westbury, and began their life on Long Island,
raising their eleven children. Clara led an active life, spending much of her
time volunteering, notably with the Woman’s Auxiliary of the Nassau
County Medical Society, the League of Women’s Voters and, with eight
daughters, the Girl Scouts of America. She was an active member and
volunteer at Saint Brigid’s Catholic Church, teaching catechism classes and
becoming a Eucharistic minister. Clara became a cancer survivor at age 52
and then, at age 60, earned a Master’s degree from the Seminary of the
Immaculate Conception in Huntington, New York. She was an advocate for
the progressive reforms of the Second Vatican Council.
In her later years, Clara returned south, settling in the Dallas, Texas area
where her oldest son resides, to care for an aging, older sister and to enjoy
a warmer climate. She was a member of the Westbury community for 38
years and leaves behind eleven children, sixteen grandchildren
and twelve great-grandchildren.
The family will receive friends on Monday 2-4 & 7-9 PM at Donohue Cecere Funeral Home. Mass of Christian Burial on Tuesday, 9:45 AM at St. Brigid's RC Church, Westbury. Interment will be at Holy Rood Cemetery in Westbury.
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