Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Catherine Fletcher Clark | 1921-2011

Strawberry Festival advocate Catherine Fletcher Clark dies at 90

PLANT CITY — Catherine Clark traveled all over the world. She never missed an opportunity to see new places or meet new people.

She could have lived in any of the countless cities she visited in her decades of travel. But she was fortunate to have been born and raised in her favorite place on Earth: Plant City.

Even when she moved into a smaller house a few years ago, she didn't stray far. She built herself a new home right behind her old one.

"She loved Plant City, and she loved its people," said her daughter, Mary Clark.

Mrs. Clark had been active and independent until recent months, when cancer and other health problems slowed her down. She passed away March 12, just a few weeks after her 90th birthday.

She was born Catherine Fletcher on Valentine's Day 1921. Her father owned a Ford dealership that opened in Plant City in 1912.

She was a young girl when the Florida Strawberry Festival debuted in 1930. She may have attended every single festival before this year; festival officials say they have photographs of her at some of the earliest events.

In 1940, she became the Florida Strawberry Festival Queen. Later, she founded the Strawberry Festival Fashion Show, which has become one the largest prefestival events.

"When she started it, it was in the basement of the First Presbyterian Church and there were about 30 guests," said her longtime friend Sandee Sytsma, a member of the festival's board of directors. "Now there are about 600."

Over the years, Mrs. Clark served on numerous Strawberry Festival committees, and as president of the Plant City Woman's Club, Junior Woman's Club and Arts Council.

Her first husband, J. Garner Helms, was the biological father of her only child. Helms died at a young age, and several years later, she married Moring P. Clark Jr., whom she had known years before when they were students at Plant City High School. He passed away about 15 years ago.

"I was very lucky," Mary Clark said. "I had two wonderful fathers."

Mrs. Clark's second husband's work as a corporate pilot took the family to the suburbs of New York City for several years in the 1960s. She loved her time there and made the most of it, visiting Manhattan often with her young daughter. But she and her family moved back to Plant City as soon as they could.

Despite the integral role Mrs. Clark played in the growth of the Florida Strawberry Festival and her civic work that touched the lives of so many people in Plant City, the people who knew Mrs. Clark remember her most for her cheerful outlook on life. At her funeral, her priest said she should have spelled her name with an exclamation point.

"She was bigger than life," Sytsma said. "Sometimes I'd pop in to see her just to hear her laugh."

Besides her daughter, Mrs. Clark is survived by three grandsons.

Marty Clear writes life stories about people who have died recently. He can be reached at

Strawberry Festival advocate Catherine Fletcher Clark dies at 90 03/24/11 [Last modified: Thursday, March 24, 2011 4:30am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Rays' Evan Longoria: "We have all the belief in the world in here"


    The weekend sweep by Texas and four-game overall losing streak has some Rays fans - based on their tweets and emails - questioning the team's ability to make the playoffs and suggesting they might as well trade away their key parts.

  2. FWC: Fish away for invasive lionfish


    Times staff

    What could be better than fishing and helping save the Gulf of Mexico?

    Add prizes.

    Lionfish, originally from the South Pacific and Indian Ocean, are an invasive species in the Gulf of Mexico. [LARA CERRI  |  Times]
  3. Gerald McCoy cares too much about what you think of him

    The Heater

    Gerald McCoy is right. We are going to miss him when he's gone.

    Bucs defensive tackle Gerald McCoy is one of 16 players to record at least five sacks in each of the past five seasons. [LOREN ELLIOTT | Times]
  4. Ronde Barber says comments about McCoy 'sensationalized'


    If anyone thinks Ronde Barber was throwing shade at Bucs defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, think again.

    "That anyone would assume I would say the best player on the defense isn’t a bad dude is irresponsible and sensationalizing a quote to serve their own means,'' Ronde Barber said.
  5. Nine years later, library attack victim Queena works at learning to walk again


    Slowly, Queena Phu is learning the act of walking again through exercises in locomotion, strength and balance.

    Queena Phu of Tampa and prosecutor Rita Peters arrive at the Stay In Step Spinal Cord Injury Recovery Center on Monday.
 Phu, 27, has endured a long road to recovery after suffering brain damage from a brutal attack that left her unable to walk, talk, see or eat on her own. [ALESSANDRA DA PRA  |   Times]