SC's Clyburn remembers wife's steady influence on politics

Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden greets supporter Rose Delores Gibbs after the funeral for Majority Whip Jim Clyburn's wife, Emily Clyburn, at Morris Brown AME Church Monday, Sept. 23, 2019, in Charleston, S.C. (AP Photo/Mic Smith)
House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, right, walks to his seat after pausing at the casket during the homegoing services for his wife Emily, Monday, Sept. 23, 2019, in Charleston, S.C. Democratic leaders and several presidential candidates attended two days of services for Emily Clyburn. (AP Photo/Meg Kinnard)
Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, right, grieves for his wife, with his daughter Angela Clyburn Hannibal, during the homegoing services for Emily Clyburn Monday, Sept. 23, 2019, in Charleston, S.C. (AP Photo/Mic Smith)
Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden arrives with his wife, Jill, are greeted at the homegoing services for Emily Clyburn, wife of Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, Monday, Sept. 23, 2019, in Charleston, S.C. (AP Photo/Mic Smith)
Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden greets supporter Mayra Rivera-Vazquez, after the funeral for Majority Whip Jim Clyburn's wife, Emily Clyburn, at Morris Brown AME Church Monday, Sept. 23, 2019, in Charleston, S.C. (AP Photo/Mic Smith)
Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden arrives with his wife, Jill, arrive for the homegoing services for Emily Clyburn, wife of Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, Monday, Sept. 23, 2019, in Charleston, S.C. (AP Photo/Mic Smith)
Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, left, greets Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden during the homegoing services for his wife Emily Clyburn, Monday, Sept. 23, 2019, in Charleston, S.C. (AP Photo/Mic Smith)

CHARLESTON, S.C. — Before hundreds of friends, relatives and colleagues, House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn of South Carolina on Monday remembered his late wife, Emily, as a steady influence on his political life from the outset.

"A lot of members wonder why I act the way I do," Clyburn, the third-ranking House Democrat, said during homegoing services at Morris Brown AME, the church he and his wife attended.

Clyburn went on to tell the story of his 1970 congressional campaign, when he went to bed thinking he'd been victorious, only to wake up to a late-night phone call notifying him of his defeat. It was Emily Clyburn, her husband noted, who had cautioned him to stay humble, only bragging softly in victory, and crying softly in defeat.

Former Vice President Joe Biden and several dozen members of Congress traveled to Charleston for Monday's service. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other members attended services Sunday in West Columbia , as did Sens. Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren.

Emily Clyburn died last week at age 80 following a decades-long battle with diabetes. As his wife's health deteriorated, Rep. Clyburn said she urged him to spend time planning her send-off services, as difficult as it may have been, and not to compromise his responsibilities because of her.

"When Emily and I started talking about today I kept putting it off and putting it off and finally she said to me, 'We need to talk because I'm dying,'" he said. "When I first started missing events and canceling events, Emily said, 'I don't want you missing votes because of me.'"

On Monday, Clyburn, 79, thanked House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, seated in the front row, for his support throughout Emily's illness. That included canceling Monday's votes so dozens of U.S. House members could attend his wife's service.

Married for nearly six decades, the Clyburns met as students at South Carolina State University, jailed after they were both arrested while protesting against segregation at an Orangeburg drug store counter. They married just over a year later.

Emily Clyburn, a native of Moncks Corner, was known affectionately to many as "Ms. Emily." She went on to become a public school librarian in Columbia and Charleston before spending nearly 30 years as a medical librarian at the Charleston Naval Base and Dorn VA Medical Center in Columbia.

Through the years, the couple raised millions of dollars for the endowment and need-based scholarships at their alma mater, from which Emily Clyburn received an honorary doctorate in 2010. A pedestrian bridge in Orangeburg linking S.C. State to student housing over a five-lane road bears her name.

___

Meg Kinnard can be reached at http://twitter.com/MegKinnard

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