As former Pasadena resident Claudia (Jones) Radcliff celebrated her 100th birthday on October 20th, loved ones also celebrated a woman who's not only the matriarch of a growing family, but a pillar of the community also. In the century she has spent on this Earth, Mrs. Radcliff has worn many hats, from mother to musician, and wife to a local Civil Rights activist as well.
Born on October 20, 1912 to Colonel and Pearl Jones, Claudia grew up in Pasadena where her early years were quickly defined by her brilliance on the piano. She played every Sunday at Friendship Baptist Church on Dayton Street, eventually receiving so much acclaim that famed jazz musician Duke Ellington asked her to join him on tour, after meeting her on a trip through town. Mrs. Radcliff politely declined, and instead finished up her studies at John Muir Technical High School in 1930, before heading off to music school in Maryland.
While spending time on the East Coast Mrs. Radcliff was able to experience a number of things beyond her educational pursuits, including attending the 1939 World's Fair in New York. There she saw the prototype for the first television set, something she told friends at the time "would never last."
It was also on the East Coast where she met her future husband, the late Hamlett Radcliff. Mr. Radcliff was working as a structural engineer in Baltimore at the time, and after a two-year courtship, the couple was married on January 19, 1942. Sadly, the date of their marriage was ironic; just hours after they shared their wedding vows, Mr. Radcliff was on a train out of town, with his final destination the shores of Europe to fight in World War II.
With her husband sent abroad, Mrs. Radcliff elected to return home to Pasadena, where a pair of unfortunate incidents marred her early time back in California. In the process of defending herself against personal injustices however, she changed the community around her, and the people who called it home.
The first incident came shortly after her return to Pasadena, when a cop pulled Mrs. Radcliff over (in a car she and her husband purchased before he went overseas, none the least), and wondered how a woman- let alone a woman of color- could afford such a nice ride. Mrs. Radcliff refused to accept the applied accusation, and after she was let go, immediately went to the police station and found the officer's superior. There she expressed her frustration with how she was treated, especially as the wife of a man who was overseas fighting for the freedom of all Americans. Well, it's safe to say Mrs. Radcliff's voice was heard; the officer who pulled her over was immediately reprimanded, and nearly lost his job because of the incident.
The second occurrence came a short time later while Mrs. Radcliff was working at Lockheed, building the famed Lockheed P-38 Lightning fighter planes.
While on the job Mrs. Radcliff suffered an injury, but when she arrived at the doctor's office was stunned to find out that people of color weren't protected by the union. This, despite all employees having union dues removed from their check every week.
Again, Mrs. Radcliff sprang into action. Within a few weeks not only did Lockheed have to dole out unpaid union dues to all employees, but the company also re-wrote their bylaws to ensure every employee, regardless of race, was protected by the union. And it was because of Claudia Radcliff.
Shortly after the second incident Mrs. Radcliff got the greatest gift a woman could at the time, when her husband Hamlett safely returned home from the war. They settled into a house Mrs. Radcliff bought with her Lockheed savings (she lived off $3 a week to save up for the purchase), a home where they eventually raised their four children, Joyce, Hamlett Jr., Donald and Claude.
Eventually Mrs. Radcliff transitioned into a new role as full-time homemaker and part-time assistant with her husband's catering company, but still never missed an opportunity to hammer home the old-school values she was raised with on her children. Mrs. Radcliff once brought her three young boys down to the police station and had them locked up behind bars for one hour; not because they did anything wrong, but because she wanted her boys to know what would happen if they did. That was just the way Hamlett and Claudia Radcliff raised their children though: It was never about teaching their kids what the right and wrong decisions were, but instead what the consequences of each decision would bring.
Over the last three decades Mrs. Radcliff has unfortunately seen her family shrink, with the loss of her daughter Joyce in 1989, and husband Hamlett and son Hamlett Jr. as well. Then again, the family has also grown in ways the young girl from Friendship Baptist church could've never imagined either. In addition to her four children, Mrs. Radcliff now has ten grandchildren, six great-grandchildren, and just recently saw the birth of her first great-great-grandchild as well.
It truly has been a fulfilling century on Earth for Claudia Radcliff, and on behalf of the Pasadena community, let's all wish her a Happy 100th Birthday!