Volume 75, Number 17 | September 14 - 20, 2005


Joan McClure, 90, activist on West Village issues

Joan McClure, a West Village resident for more than 60 years and an activist on many issues until she sold her Bethune St. home and moved away about 10 years ago, died of a stroke on Aug. 4 at a hospice in Tuolumne, Cal., at the age of 90.

Her son, Wallace Watson, said she had been living in a dementia residence in San Francisco to be near him and moved with him to Tuolumne, east of San Francisco, six weeks ago.

Suzanne Ruta, a West Village neighbor and longtime friend, recalled McClure’s many activities ranging from the local beginnings of the Greenwich Village Halloween Parade to support for people with H.I.V./AIDS. Joan McClure was involved early on with Housing Works, the agency that finds places to live for homeless people with AIDS.

Her concern about increasing park space in the Village prompted her in the 1980s to work enthusiastically in favor of the proposed Westway highway and park on Hudson River landfill.

“When people said that real estate development would create a wall between the community and the river, she said, ‘We’ll fight that battle when we come to it.’ She liked Westway because of the parkland and led a protest in favor of it after Mayor Koch went against the project,” Ruta said. Westway was abandoned by the state and the city in 1985.

McClure helped finance and organize community support for the first Halloween Parade, the 1973 brainchild of Ralph Lee, the theater designer who created giant puppets for the event that started as a procession that winded through the West Village side streets.

“She was involved in setting up free health clinics in the Village and Chelsea in the 1960s and ’70s,” said Ruta. “She and her architect husband, Dean McClure, lobbied hard for years for the green traffic island at Abingdon Square. It came only after she had left the city in 1995,” Ruta added.

“Another of Joan’s campaigns when there was a rash of muggings one summer in the West Village was to suggest we all wear whistles around our necks so that anyone in trouble could blow the whistle and the whole neighborhood would respond,” Ruta recalled.

‘The big picture about mom was that she had a palpable impact and influence in her little corner of the world,” her son said. “She marched for the homeless, she marched for AIDS benefits, for the disenfranchised and she even helped bring D’Agostino supermarket to the corner of Bethune and Greenwich Sts.,” her son said.

Born in New York on Dec. 12, 1914, in New York, Joan Wallace was raised in Weston, Conn., where her mother, Moira Wallace, ran Cobb’s Mill Inn, after her husband died in the 1918 influenza epidemic. The inn became a magnet for New York writers including Wolcott Gibbs and the Algonquin Roundtable literary luminaries in the late 1920s. When the writers didn’t pay their bills, Moira Wallace dispatched her daughter Joan to New York to collect, according to Ruta.

Joan McClure came to New York, worked for Vogue writing advertising copy and married John Watson with whom she had a son and a daughter. She divorced Watson and later married Dean McClure, whom she met while planting trees on Bethune St.

In addition to her son, her husband, Dean McClure, and her daughter, Wendy Everett, of Cambridge, Mass., survive.

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