Kimberly Clark showed up at law school 20 years older than her classmates, and looked upward at most of them.
Friends and family can't quite say she stood 5 feet tall, and append a "maybe" before guessing her weight at 100 pounds. The second-career student at Stetson University College of Law talked about her children but not her grades, which placed her near the top of her class.
Last spring, she aced a final 48 hours before delivering her youngest son.
Her family expected to watch her graduate with classmates Saturday. Instead, they will attend her funeral. Mrs. Clark died Mondayof complications from pneumonia. She was 44.
She leaves behind a husband, David, and sons Holden, 7; Paxton, 5; and Dawson, 11 months.
In law school, she was a formidable interlocutor who was "always thinking three arguments ahead of you," said John Ferrari, who commuted to Stetson from Sarasota with Mrs. Clark four nights a week. "But between her physical size and her demeanor, all of that was hidden. You would see her and think this was a really passionate mommy."
She joined older students in a part-time program more like The Breakfast Club than The Paper Chase . "People think of law students as ultra-competitive," said Ferrari, 46. "But our class was really a cohesive unit where that kind of behavior just wasn't tolerated."
For Mrs. Clark's classmates, that's probably just as well.
"She had outstanding credentials coming in, and she had stellar grades while in law school," said Frank Klim, a Stetson spokesman.
Her inspiration to start law school at age 40 arose from her first career, in mental health counseling.
Kimberly Klinger was born in Warren, Ohio, in 1969. Her father, Robert Klinger, ran a successful sign business that employed all family members at one point or another. The Klingers moved to Sarasota when Kimberly was 9.
She majored in political science at Jacksonville University, then earned a master's degree at the University of South Florida, in mental health counseling.
She married David Clark, who she dated in high school. Mrs. Clark worked in counseling and the family business and started a family. But she wanted more.
"There's probably a natural progression," said Matthew Richter, her cousin, "from going to where you want to counsel people to where you want to take up a sword of advocacy and actually do something to help them."
She tried to spend any down time at the beach, volunteering for her children's Montessori school, NewGate, or enjoying a glass of wine among friends. She had a casual, non-flashy style; a self-deprecating sense of humor; and could defend her views without making enemies.
"I work for Republicans," said Richter, 44, a New York communications consultant. "Kim is not a Republican. Even when we had vigorous debates about politics, it was always respectful and a pleasure."
Had she been able to practice law, she might have worked with families and the elderly, Ferrari said. She became ill about five weeks ago, her family said. Doctors diagnosed pneumonia. For a time, she was in a coma, then emerged from it.
On Sunday, Mother's Day, her husband and sons visited Mrs. Clark in the hospital, where she seemed to be improving.
She died Monday in Sarasota Memorial Hospital.
"Kim was destined to do great things," her cousin said. "It's a tragic loss for our family, for her husband and for the world that they'll never know."
Because Mrs. Clark had completed requirements to graduate, her name will be read aloud at Stetson's graduation ceremony Saturday — the day of her funeral: Kimberly Klinger Clark, Juris Doctor.
Researcher Natalie Watson contributed to this report. Andrew Meacham can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2248.