Clara DaSilva met her husband, Henry, on the island of Brava in Cape Verde. There, they had been close friends, and even dated casually, said their son, Robert DaSilva. But early on Henry had the opportunity to move to the United States. The two drifted apart, married other people and went on with their lives.
Clara moved to New Bedford two years after Henry. By coincidence, they found themselves living in the same neighborhood in New Bedford’s South End. They reconnected, were married soon after and together raised a family of three children. “It was fate. They were the loves of each other’s lives,” Robert said.
Clara died of COVID-19 on April 5, 2020, among the first in New Bedford. She was 84. Henry died just three weeks before Clara, of health issues unrelated to COVID-19. He was 94. “Our biggest fear as children was my mom having to live without my dad,” Robert said. “We’re at peace with that, that they died so close together.” Robert said he believes his mother contracted coronavirus at his father’s funeral, which took place in mid-March, when lockdown restrictions were just beginning to be implemented.
While raising her family in New Bedford, Clara worked as a stitcher of fine men’s suits. She was a member of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union; she worked for more than 40 years; and she took pride in the trade. “Whenever we would go to a store, she would look at the label and let us know she had made that suit,” Robert said.
Henry, her husband, worked on tugboats out of many different ports. “The women worked in the factories and the men worked at sea,” Robert said of his parents and their extended family in New Bedford. “It was that era.”
Robert remembers his mother for her warmth and her keen intuition. “Everyone used to say, ‘if your mom grew up in this country, she would be a CIA analyst,’” Robert said.
Their home in the West End while Robert was growing up was always full of people, music and laughter. “She knew everyone in the city,” Robert recalled. “I can’t remember a day coming home from school when a friend or family member wouldn’t be there, spending the night or the weekend with us. She opened her house to everyone. She was that type of person.”
The early phase of the pandemic was a difficult time for Robert and his family, after losing both parents within three weeks of each other. But while working from home, and his own children going to school remotely, he found consolation in having time to be close to his family through the hardship. “We had a lot of time to reflect on their lives,” he said. “We’re grateful for that.”
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