Family, friends remember corporate chef turned hero
Lashawn Clark, here with Keefe, said he had a big heart: "He would take his last and give it to you."
NEW YORK (CNN) -- The smile said it all.
It spoke volumes when Benjamin "Keefe" Clark personally greeted, cooked for and served meals to more than 250 Fiduciary Trust employees on the South Tower's 96th floor. Or when Keefe gave assistance and advice to people who invariably came to him in time of need. And it was loudest when he played with or cooked for his five children and wife in their Brooklyn home.
"Keefe was always trying to make life better for others. He always looked out for everyone else besides himself," said Channing Thornton, a childhood pal who like many others, he said, called Clark his best friend. "Wherever Keefe is now, he's probably making a good meal, and smiling."
His family, colleagues and friends all paint a picture of a talented, personable and strong man. Clark's selflessness, in fact, may have cost him his life on September 11, according to several people who worked alongside him.
Bibi Conrad, senior vice president with Fiduciary, said Clark was probably responsible for the escape of hundreds of his company's employees "because he would have insisted they get out quickly."
After several hundred people safely fled downstairs, Clark reportedly went back to lock up and make sure everyone had left.
"That sort of decision-making and caring made the difference," Conrad said.
Lashawn Clark is not surprised by the heroic stories she has heard in the past 12 months about her husband's final moments.
"He had a big heart," she said. "That was the type of person he was. He would take his last and give it to you."
A Marine and a chef
Chaz Clarke, left, holds a mammoth check with his mother Lashawn and United Negro College Fund President William H. Gray III. The UNCF gave Chaz a full scholarship to Morehouse College in Atlanta.
The 800 people who attended Keefe Clark's memorial service last October saw two groups of men in uniform marching to honor a fallen comrade: Marines in full military garb and about 30 chefs adorned in their trademark white hats and jackets.
Clark served in the Gulf War before returning home to New York to pursue cooking, a passion and skill he picked up from his mother, according to Thornton.
He joined Sodexho, one of the world's largest food service companies, and rose to become an executive chef for corporation clients.
At Fiduciary, he served as the lone cook charged with supplying, presenting and preparing hundreds of meals each day using just three microwaves.
While his cooking talents were renowned, his personal skills -- addressing everyone by name, cooking to their tastes and greeting them all with a smile -- set him apart, said his bosses and customers.
"He was one of my favorites," said Patricia Hannigan, who served as Clark's district manager at Sodexho for five years. "He had a great temperament, was cooperative no matter what and was always very respectful."
Of course, Clark had his own favorite diners: his children. Every day their meals would be custom-made, ready-to-eat when they came home from school.
"He used to make a mean meatloaf," said Keefe's son Taj. "I just liked everything he made."
The Clarks have heard many heroic accounts of Keefe's final moments.
Conrad said Keefe urgently called on people to leave their offices and head down the stairs -- after the neighboring North Tower was struck but before United Flight 175 slammed into the South Tower.
Son Chaz Clark said he was told his father and three maintenance workers were last seen helping a woman in a wheelchair get down the stairs.
Whatever happened, Keefe's friends, colleagues and family said his death left a major hole in all their lives.
"He was so highly regarded and so warm," Conrad said. "He will loom very large in our memories."
His son Sean painted a mural in his father's honor, calling Keefe a hero who did everything he could to help others -- "all the time, every time."
Chaz Clarke emulated his father's sense of service on September 11, immediately heading to hospitals to offer his assistance.
"I couldn't stand by and watch it happen," said Chaz, a freshman at Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia, and one of the first recipients of a United Negro College Fund scholarship for children of September 11 victims. "I had to do something."
Lashawn Clark said she has gotten some solace from the stories about her husband's exploits on September 11. But she gets the most strength, she said, from his children.
"I still can't look at him in the past tense because I look at my children and the legacy is still there -- the giving, the caring, the loving person," Lashawn Clark said.
CNN correspondents Aurora Smaldone, Rose Arce and Greg Botelho contributed to this report.
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