House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn’s wife dies at 80
Dr. Emily England Clyburn, wife of House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, passed away on Thursday. She was 80 years old.
Emily Clyburn — known as “Dr. Em” to many — was an esteemed librarian and political activist who played a key role in her husband’s political career.
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The House will adjourn on Monday so lawmakers can attend the funeral, Democratic leaders announced.
How the couple met was the stuff of South Carolina political lore. Both were students at then-South Carolina State College and had been arrested during a March 1960 civil rights protest.
“We had been in jail all night, and they hadn’t fed us all day. I was standing there and I said to nobody in particular, ‘Boy, am I hungry,'” Clyburn recalled during a 2014 MSNBC interview. “There was this little 95-pound person standing nearby. Next thing, she is back with a hamburger. She offered it to me, then pulled it back. She tore it in half, gave me one half, and kept the other half for herself.”
They were married the following year and remained together for 58 years. The couple had three daughters.
Emily Clyburn served as a librarian in Columbia and Charleston before spending 29 years as a medical librarian at the Charleston Naval Base and Dorn VA Medical Center in Columbia.
She was also a philanthropist, raising more than $1.7 million since 2005 for the James E. and Emily E. Clyburn Endowment for Archives and History at what is now South Carolina State University.
She got a bachelor’s degree in Library Science from South Carolina State College in 1961. In 1977, she received a master’s degree from the University of South Carolina. South Carolina State University awarded her an honorary doctorate in 2010.
Emily Clyburn pushed her husband to run for office, first in South Carolina and later in Congress. Clyburn would always tell reporters that he discussed “everything big” with his wife before making a decision.
“Emily Clyburn was a champion of equality and opportunity who made a difference for countless young people in her beloved South Carolina,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement. “As a librarian, she intimately understood the power of learning to transform lives, and dedicated decades to ensuring that every child, servicemember, veteran and worker could access a good education that would allow him or her to climb the ladders of opportunity in America. Her extraordinary leadership, together with Jim, to increase learning opportunities at their beloved alma mater South Carolina State will stand always as an enduring tribute to her beautiful life and legacy.”
“I am deeply saddened to have learned of the passing of Emily England Clyburn,” added Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) in a statement. “She was one of the most kind and dynamic people I had ever met and lived a consequential life changing South Carolina and the United States for the better.”