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Clifton Ray Strickland, 65, of Bailey, passed away Tuesday, April 18, 2023, leaving a significant void in the hearts of his family members.
He is survived by his sister, Louise Strickland Finch; his brother Nate Strickland, Jr.; his nephew Wade Raymond Finch (Jen); his niece, Heather Louise Finch; his great-nephew Benjamin Wade Finch; his great-nieces Abigail Pearl Finch, Lydia Anne Finch, Hannah Oakley Finch, and Elizabeth Ray Finch; his great-furbaby nephew, Scout Finch; and his great-furbaby niece, Icie Flowers Finch. He also cherished his extended family, the Mt. Pleasant and Bailey Community, and the sweet staff of Wilson Assisted Living.
A graveside service will be held on Saturday, April 22, 2023, at the Bailey Cemetery in Bailey, NC, at 2:00 pm.
Lessons from the Life of Uncle Clifton: The Power of Love and Resilience
Co-Authored by Icie Pearl Lamm Finch (10/08/1927 – 02/01/2023) and Heather Louise Finch
The passing of Uncle Clifton was a significant loss to our family, as he was a man whose kindness, compassion, and infectious smile endeared him to everyone he met. His life was a testament to the power of love, perseverance, and hope, despite his intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD).
Clifton was born with a congenital heart condition that caused his skin to turn blue due to a lack of oxygen in his blood. His mother was in a coma during birth and survived, and his older sister Louise took on the responsibility of caring for him from a young age. Despite his condition, Clifton attended Southern Nash High School, where my grandmother, Pearl Lamm Finch, was a guidance counselor. She developed a deep affection for Clifton, and he became an integral part of her life. Grandma wrote about Clifton, and she hoped to finish his story one day. Sadly, it has been almost 90 days since her passing, and I have decided to continue where she left off.
"Uncle Clifton is forty-ish and handicapped. His school years were enhanced with special teachers because he was diagnosed as educational mentally handicapped (EMH). Years later, the name changed to Exceptional Children. Uncle Clifton was always a sweet, gentle person who loved to be with others and quickly grasped attitudes of kindness and friendliness toward him.
Uncle Clifton entered my life when he entered Southern Nash Senior High School. I was his guidance counselor, and we bonded very quickly. His capacity to love exceeded his desire to learn. He enjoyed every day. He liked his teachers and loved watching and teasing the girls. Over some time, the decision was made by all the educators involved that Clifton would benefit significantly from a sheltered workshop. He could learn occupational skills, develop social skills, and continue his primary education. In consultation with his parents and his sister, arrangements were made for a van to pick him up and transport him to Tri-County Industries (TIC), which offers workshops dedicated to enhancing the lives of persons with disabilities and/or disadvantages through work assessment, job training, and job placement. He attended the workshops five days a week. While life was moving on for Clifton, other events would impact his life and my family's. His sister married my Son, Ray. They gave birth to two wonderful grandchildren, Wade and Heather. Therefore, Clifton truly became Uncle Clifton and became an integral part of our lives.
Uncle Clifton attended the Workshop in Rocky Mount and then Diversified Industries in Wilson for several years - the Workshop became the center of Clifton's life, and the goal was so he could work in a closely supervised environment in time. This brought new direction and decisions to Uncle Clifton's life. He could not acquire a driver's license, which limited his ability for employment. He became a handyman and companion at his sister's home, assisting with household chores and jobs related to the farm, Finch Forest Christmas Tree Farm, including helping with sales during the Christmas Season.
Uncle Clifton is a significant person in the lives of the family. He has perfected listening skills, the greatest attribute that man can possess. I often wonder if his listening skills were sharpened because, many times, others ignored what he had to say.
Gentleness, kindness, and patience belong to this larger rumpled person who never speaks harshly or unkindly toward or about others. Even when others are angry with him, he listens, refrains from speaking, and goes on with his day.
You can expect commitment and perfection when given a task that he understands and has repetition. He continues to work at it until told that he can stop, never complaining about his work. Those who see him daily are amazed at his skills related to weather conditions; we call him the weatherman. He is an avid listener to the radio as he navigates around the farm on the golf cart. Therefore, local and world news and weather conditions are on his daily menu. Last-minute news and weather data can be attained at any time.
Uncle Clifton expresses compassion and empathy for family and circumstances that are in his realm of awareness. I am thankful that my grandchildren have Uncle Clifton as one of their role models. He will teach them about world cultures or correct them on special events. But they have learned from him that all people have the exact basic needs and feelings. They have seen that there is and recognized the wonderful special culture that he belongs to that others need to learn, attributes for life that he possesses. His life is free of hatred and discrimination; when he takes on a task, he remains with it until it is complete. He is dependable and trustworthy. If one needs to share a secret – tell it to Uncle Clifton, it is safe.
Many Uncle Cliftons are out there; they need and want you to recognize them. There is a special bond between individuals who share similar handicaps. They need and want us to recognize, accept, and bond with their lives. We learn something from every person we meet. There are many Uncle Clifton's out there who need your understanding. We learn something from every person in our lives.
My son Ray was a forester, a mentor, and a teacher to Uncle Clifton - he learned many skills on how to use and repair tools, tree planting, conservation practices, and especially the collective abilities of the Christmas Tree business. His favorite time is during the Christmas Season – when he can help with the tree sales. As we move forward, Uncle Clifton has aged and has health problems but still has that positive, loving spirit. As I reminisce about Uncle Clifton, I remember his years in school. As a counselor, I had to intervene many times because he liked pretty girls and tried to flirt with them. Although Clifton never learned to read and write, his efforts never ceased. Daily, he would trace numbers and the alphabet to learn to read and write, which he was cognitively unable to accomplish, but that did not stop him from trying to learn. He was indeed a blessing to the family, as he was always willing to do anything he was asked to do.
We will always hold Uncle Clifton close to our hearts and think of him only as a blessing in our lives." - Icie Pearl Lamm Finch (10/08/27 – 02/01/23)
Uncle Clifton was a person of exceptional character who touched the lives of everyone he met. He was born with unique needs, and our family recognized the importance of creating a supportive environment that allowed him to thrive. Through the love and care of Grandma Pearl, my late Father, and my Mother, Uncle Clifton developed a strong work ethic and a commitment to excellence in every task he undertook.
Despite his limitations, Uncle Clifton's life and character taught valuable lessons to those who encountered him. His example reminded us to treat people equally and appreciate each person's uniqueness. We have heard stories of how he inspired others to advocate for those who need a voice, correcting people who used derogatory language and advocating for people like him who are often overlooked by society. His remarkable qualities included exceptional listening skills, patience, gentleness, and kindness.
As we reflect on Uncle Clifton's life, we are reminded of the power of love and the human spirit's resilience. Despite facing challenges, he never lost his positive outlook or determination to live life to the fullest. His unwavering spirit and the lessons he taught us will forever be a part of our family's story.
Uncle Clifton's life also serves as a reminder of the importance of creating a supportive environment for individuals with unique needs. Our family recognized the vital role that the home and school environment play in human upbringing, especially for someone with intellectual or developmental disabilities. They provided Uncle Clifton with the support and resources he needed to thrive, including enrolling him in a workshop training program to develop his skill set. Uncle Clifton's love for animals and his ability to write numbers daily, despite not being able to read or write, demonstrate the unique gifts that individuals with intellectual or developmental disabilities can bring to society. A week before he passed away, he was able to describe the annual growth cycle of planting a Christmas Tree in sandy soil.
In a world that is becoming increasingly diverse, it is essential to recognize and respect the unique abilities and challenges that people with mental handicaps face. Unfortunately, many people still harbor negative stereotypes and biases towards individuals with special needs, often mistreating or ignoring them altogether.
As a society, we must strive to do better. We must take a stand and advocate for those with IDD, particularly when sick and vulnerable. They deserve our support and compassion, just like any other human being. One way we can do this is by increasing our emotional intelligence levels when working with those who have special needs. Emotional intelligence involves the ability to recognize and manage our own emotions and understand and empathize with the emotions of others. By developing these skills, we can better connect with people with IDD and treat them with the kindness and respect they deserve.
It is also essential to treat people with IDD as equals. This means recognizing their abilities and strengths, as well as their limitations. We should not talk down to them or patronize them but rather engage with them as we would any other person. Doing so can help break down the stigmas and prejudices surrounding mental handicaps.
Another crucial step we can take is to speak out against derogatory language and behaviors toward people with mental handicaps. This includes calling out the use of derogatory terms, such as the R-word, and challenging discriminatory practices that exclude or marginalize them. We must be willing to stand up for those who cannot stand up for themselves.
Uncle Clifton's story highlights the need for society to recognize and value the contributions of individuals with unique needs. Too often, they are overlooked or dismissed, but they have much to offer if given the opportunity to develop their skills and talents.
From my personal experience, having two uncles and other family members with IDD, I have gained valuable insights into the significance of kindness, patience, and empathy. These individuals have served as a reminder that each person possesses unique abilities and talents that should be appreciated and celebrated.
It is essential for all of us to enhance our emotional intelligence when interacting with people who have IDD. Treating them as equals, advocating for their rights and well-being, and challenging discrimination or negative attitudes toward them can create a more inclusive and compassionate society.
As we face the challenges of our current world, Uncle Clifton's life and legacy provide us with a source of hope and inspiration. We can all learn from his unwavering spirit, determination, and love. Our collective responsibility is to build a more supportive and inclusive society where everyone is valued and appreciated for their unique gifts and talents.
Clifton Ray Strickland 06/25/1957 – 04/18/2023