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Obituaries

Donald "Obie" Clifford Jr.

Dan McClelland

Donald K. Clifford Jr., widely known as “Obie,” died peacefully and comfortably in his Mt. Kisco, N.Y. home on August 8, 2017.
Anyone who knew Obie knew the uplifting force of his optimistic enthusiasm. His overwhelming attitude towards life was gratitude. “The odds of any one of us being born at all are at least one trillion to one,” Obie used to say. “Then to have had a life of such extraordinary privilege is beyond belief.”
Obie would tell you that his first stroke of luck was having two wonderful parents, Margery Meigs Clifford and Donald K. Clifford, Sr. He was born in Bronxville, N.Y. on August 25, 1932.
Obie was predeceased by his sister, Louise Clifford Hart, and his adored wife and best friend of 60 years, Mary Lawrence Clifford.
He is survived by his sister, Margery Clifford Henneman. He also leaves behind five children, Lawrence M. Clifford, Katherine C. Cates, Mary “Robin” Clifford Wood, James D. Clifford and Elizabeth H. Clifford, in addition to 14 grandchildren, beloved in-laws, cousins, nieces, nephews, and friends too numerous to count.
Obie attended Bronxville public schools until enrolling at Exeter Academy. He was a member of the amazing class of 1954 at Yale University and took a leadership role as an alumnus of Yale for many years. He got his MBA from Harvard Business School, then joined McKinsey and Company in New York City, where he worked as a management consultant for 25 years. At McKinsey he coined the term “threshold companies.”
He co-authored a best-selling book about midsize companies with Richard Cavanaugh: The Winning Performance: How America’s High-Growth Midsize Companies Succeed. After retiring from McKinsey in 1984, Obie spent his remaining years consulting for threshold companies and giving generously of his time and resources as a board member for many institutions, most notably The American Museum of Natural History and the Quebec Labrador Foundation. In enumerating the crowning achievements of his life, Obie always began with the fact that he won the hand of Mary Lawrence, whom he loved with complete abandon from the age of fourteen. He was a devoted husband, father, and grandfather who had a passionate commitment to family.
Without question, his second most valued achievement was overseeing the creation of The Wild Center, a nationally renowned natural history museum that he co-founded with Elizabeth Lowe in 1998.
Obie cherished the outdoors, especially his beloved Big Wolf Lake in New York’s Adirondack Mountains.
He also loved plays on words, golf, tennis, travel, deep philosophical conversation, good wine, ice cream, and singing.
“Obie was a giver, not a taker,” said Russ Reynolds, friend and fellow Whiffenpoof of 1954. He found ways to give of himself both personally and professionally whenever he could, including singing concerts in retirement homes during his last years of life.  
After several months of deteriorating health and mobility, Obie chose to enter home hospice care at the end of July. A meticulous manager to the end, he took charge of his final days and left this earth on his own terms. He expressed hope that our society’s approach to death and dying might become more open and humane, and that a peaceful death at home will become more universally available.
If Obie had a wish to leave us, it would be this: “Love each other, and love the Earth.”
He and his family would be grateful for tributes in his honor to go to The Wild Center in Tupper Lake, N.Y.  
Note: A wonderful article was published about Obie Clifford in July 2017 in Harvard Business School’s alumni magazine: https://www.alumni.hbs.edu/stories/Pages/story-bulletin.aspx?num=6334  
For additional information, see the McGrath and Son Funeral Home website, http://www.mcgrathandson.com/