90-year-old chaplain has no plans to retire

SALEM – He’s spent 30 years comforting those who grieve, rejoicing over happiness and even marrying a couple. And even though he’s 90 years old, Chaplain Tom Clay has no plans to retire as the spiritual shepherd at Richfield Retirement Community.

On Dec. 9, grateful members of that community surprised the chaplain by unveiling two new stained-glass windows in the chapel and dedicating them in honor of Clay’s service.

Family members celebrate with the Rev. Tom Clay, Richfield Retirement Community's 90-year-old chaplain on Dec. 9 at a surprise dedication to Clay of two stained glass panels in the chapel..
Family members celebrate with the Rev. Tom Clay, Richfield Retirement Community's 90-year-old chaplain on Dec. 9 when two stained glass panels were unveiled to honor him. Photo by Meg Hibbert

Clay, who will turn 91 in January, “quietly works behind the scenes, but he is always visiting either residents or employees,” said Robert Rector, president of Richfield Retirement. “He has a deep commitment to those that live at Richfield and seems to always have just the right Bible verse or words of encouragement that you need at that moment. His service to this community is truly appreciated.”

The chaplain knew there was going to be a chapel service that afternoon but didn’t know about the windows nor that his children, daughter Ann Kelly of Asheboro, N.C.; and son and daughter-in-law Robert and Carol Duffey Clay from Arlington would be there, along with three great-grandchildren: Brianna Kelly, 14; Evelyn, 8, and Daniel, 10.

“How long have you known about this?” he asked his son after the ceremony, and as they headed for the buffet set out in the rear of the chapel. “Since around Thanksgiving,” was the answer.

Residents and members of residents’ families lined up to congratulate Clay and tell him how much they think of the man who in the pulpit of the chapel each Sunday and who writes stories of his own life experiences in a monthly newsletter column.

Mary Sharp, a resident of Richfield’s The Oaks, pointed out “Rev. Clay has a great sense of humor.”

Others mentioned his compassion and empathy.

“Chaplain Clay is the most phenomenal person,” said Kathleen Morrison, a Richfield volunteer. “The first time I brought my mother here I knew this was the place for us. We come to the chapel services every Sunday. Chaplain Clay re-married me and my husband, Joe, who is also a volunteer.”

Rose, another volunteer, said Clay is “always so grateful, thoughtful and considerate.” She has kept all the bulletins from the chapel services since she’s been volunteering for the past 12 years. Those were part of the thick scrapbook presented to Clay at the event.

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