Clara Hieronymus, ATCA founder and 40-year critic for Nashville Tennessean, dies at 100

Clara Hieronymus, ATCA founder and 40-year critic for Nashville Tennessean, dies at 100

The doyenne of American theater critics, Clara was one of ATCA’s founders, following Henry Hewes in the central role of executive secretary, 1984-2001. She died Saturday in Savannah, Tenn., according to her daughter-in-law Martha Hieronymus, who told Evans Donnell of ArtsNash, “She went peacefully at home around 9:05 p.m.” Evans first reported her passing; here’s The Tennessean’s full obituary. You should find some comments on the ATCA Facebook page.

ATCA chair Jonathan Abarbanel pays tribute below to both Clara and Barbara Gross.

Association loses two esteemed members 

It is with a heavy heart that we post news that we have lost two stalwarts of our association, ATCA co-founder Clara Hieronymus of Nashville, TN, and long-time member Barbara Gross of Rockville, MD.

Our admired and much-beloved Clara, who turned 100 last July, passed away peacefully on Nov. 30, in Savannah, TN at her son’s home. For more than 40 years she was theatre critic for The Tennessean, and also theatre and art editor, remaining active as a journalist well past her 80th birthday. We who had the great privilege of knowing her learned very quickly to look beyond her seemingly-genteel proper Southern façade. Behind her soft-spoken, lilting speech was razor-sharp perception and wit in one who did not suffer fools gladly. But Clara was anything but starchy. She was one of just two female co-founders of the Association and went a long way in keeping it from being an Old Boys’ Club.

She was already ATCA’s Executive Secretary when I was first elected to our Executive Committee in 1985. Some founding members looked down their noses at the first freelance writer on the ExCom but not Clara, who was always eminently approachable and thoughtful about ATCA matters. But at our annual conferences, you were also more than likely to find Clara in the ATCA hospitality suite.

The news of the death of Barbara Gross on Nov. 20 has taken all of us by surprise, since just last July in Shepherdstown, WV, she was her usual personable and carrot-topped self. We’ve learned since that she had been battling cancer on-and-off for many years. Barbara had a day gig with the Federal government for 27 years, before retiring and devoting more time to theatre. In her official job with the National Institutes for Health, she made outstanding contributions to the goal of “plain language in government communications.” She was the only non-scientist to serve on a committee which reviewed all materials disseminated to the public by the Department of Health and Human Services in the field of nutrition.

Her critical credentials were equally impeccable, having attended the O’Neill Theatre Center’s National Critics Institute, class of 1992. She joined ATCA a year later and served for a number of years on the New Play Awards Committee. She contributed to Playbill and Playbill on Line, the Washington Post and Backstage, among other publications.

We offer our condolences to the families of Clara and Barbara, tip our ink-stained hats in grateful appreciation of their talents and raise a glass in remembrance. 

— Jonathan Abarbanel

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