ROBERT LEE CLAY, SR.

Posted by TubmanCity / on 11/17/2008 / 0 Comments

Intro

AN UNCOMPROMISING MAN

A REMARKABLE LIFE

 by Tyrone Powers
 

      Robert Lee Clay, Sr., son of the late Lula Belle and Raymond Clay, Sr., was born on December 18, 1945 in Wilson, North Carolina. His father, Raymond Clay, Sr. recently passed in March of 2004. The family, including, sisters, Lucille, Lula Belle, Anna Belle, and Dorothy Mae and brothers, Raymond, nicknamed "PeeWee" and Roger resided in Laurel, Maryland.  Growing up, young Robert was extremely close to his grandmother, Lucy.  Throughout his life, when good things happened, he said it was his grandmother watching over him.

      Robert graduated from Harriett Tubman High School in Laurel, Maryland. Later, he took courses in business management and bookkeeping, through the Small Business Administration (SBA) and completed a Contract Education Program at Anne Arundel Community College.

      In 1965, Robert married his high school sweetheart, Virginia Mott, and through that union, Sharon, Eyvonne, and Robert, Jr., "Bobby" were born. In 1980, Robert married the love of his life for 25 years, his current wife, Gerietta. During this union, he had three beautiful daughters, Marcia, Raiesha, and Alexandria. 

      Robert loved his children and took great pride in their achievements and individualities.  In recent years, he entrusted his eldest daughter, Sharon, with many important business and personal responsibilities. When referring to Sharon's quiet and modest demeanor, Robert jokingly said, "I can't figure out how she got that way".  Robert was pleasantly surprised by Eyvonne's  decision to become a deputy sheriff for Baltimore City.  He recalled her as a daring teenager and he admired her adventurous nature. Her background as a drill instructor for the Marine Corp helped develop her leadership skills, and ultimately led to her promotion as Sergeant. Robert had a special affinity for his only son, Bobby, who worked with his father for many years. When he attained his CDL license he decided to follow his father's footsteps and start his own trucking company. Robert remained hopeful that Bobby might one day succeed him in his business.  Robert had great expectations for his three youngest daughters. Marcia, an interpreter for the hearing impaired, was recently married in 2004 to Joshua LaVine. Through Robert's inspiration, she blossomed into an advocate for deaf rights. She is currently completing her double national certification in interpreting at Catonsville Community College. Raeisha currently attends Catonsville Community College where she is pursuing a degree in Occupational Therapy. The apple of his eye, Alexandria, is his youngest. He often bragged of Alexandria's brilliance and he carried around a copy of her report card reflecting straight "A"s. She is currently a Maryland Student Ambassador for People to People. Robert encouraged her to broaden her horizons, therefore, she has done extensive traveling all over the world fostering world peace.        

      As a teenager, Robert worked at a K-Mart for a very short time.  The experience taught him that he did not like being an employee, and that his only hope for survival was to obtain his own business and work for himself.  Robert could not stand being told what he could or could not do.  When he started his business, Robert refused to concede that there were limits and boundaries to what a Black man could achieve.  From a small firm built by his father, Robert built a prosperous business. The assets of the corporation increased from $2500 to over one million dollars ($1,000,000.00). 

      Robert Clay's phenomenal career in the construction industry arose from the humble beginnings of his father, Raymond Clay, Sr. who owned and operated Raymond Clay Contracting. In 1967, Robert L. Clay, Sr. took over the management of the company and subsequently incorporated the company in December of 1968 in the State of Maryland, as Robert Clay, Inc. Shortly thereafter, Robert created a trucking arm, RLC & Son, from the previous one man operation.  In 1975, after completing several projects in the new City of Columbia, Robert Clay, Inc. completed a major project, totaling over One Million Dollars ($1,000,000.00), for the General Services Administration, under the Small Business Administration's 8(a) program. In 1982, Robert Clay, Inc. completed a Ten Million Dollar ($10,000,000.00) project working on the Fort McHenry Tunnel under the Urban Mass Transit Administration. Robert Clay, Inc. also completed some general contracting projects, which included: a $3.5 Million Dollar Increase in Water Supply Project at Fort Meade; a $7 Million Dollar Central Intelligence Agency Headquarters Expansion; and a $15 Million Dollar contract from the Veterans Administration on the VA Hospital project in Baltimore. In 1989 Robert L. Clay formed another company known as Robert Clay Industrial Supply and Contractors, Inc. This company completed several projects for the City of Baltimore, Housing Authority of Baltimore City, and various other private companies. As the company grew it began to take on increasingly larger projects. In 1994, Robert Clay, Inc. was awarded a Twenty Million Dollar ($20,000,000.00) Job Order Requirements Contract through the Housing Authority of Baltimore City, in which the company was responsible for the most comprehensive renovations for Public Housing.

      Robert was not satisfied with merely achieving personal success in business.  He wanted other Black owned businesses to grow and prosper as well.  In 1976, Robert founded the first Minority Contractors' Association in the state of Maryland.  Under his leadership, the association developed into a powerful voice for African-American and other minority-owned businesses.  In 1978, the first Minority Business Enterprise (MBE) law setting goals for minority participation on state contracts was created.   Robert Clay was on the front lines fighting for rights and opportunities for Black contractors on every major project in the state:  the Veterans Administration, Stadium, etc. Robert Clay's influence had a far reaching impact in shaping minority business programs across the country, including the federal government 8(a) program.  All small and minority-owned businesses in the state and throughout the country are indebted to Robert Clay for the business opportunities they are afforded today. 

          Robert Clay continued to fight for small and minority owned businesses until the day he died.   In 2001, Robert, along with several other MBE's in Baltimore City, demanded that the Baltimore City Administration take measures to stop rampant abuse of minority sub-contractors.  This was a selfless effort because, by this time Robert Clay, Inc., was performing $20 million city contracts as a prime contractor. 

      In 2002, Robert Clay organized and lead over 100 minority-owned businesses in protest against HB 1150 which would have undermined the state's MBE law to include white males in the 25% goals for minority business participation.  Clay gave powerful testimony against the bill before the Senate Health and Government Operations Committee.  The bill was defeated thanks to the efforts of Robert L. Clay, Sr.  

        In 2003, after changing the name of his organization to the Maryland Minority Business Association in order to include the interests of all businesses, Robert was appointed to the Governor's Commission on Minority Business Enterprise Reform.   In 2004, Robert Clay challenged the practices of the Washington Suburban Sanitation Commission (WSSC) arguing that the entity unfairly discriminated against local MBE's.

      Most recently, in 2005, Robert openly criticized Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley and other members of the administration for misleading the citizens of Baltimore regarding their efforts on behalf of the city's MBE's.  Clay was troubled that thousands of the city's struggling MBE's continued to be excluded from city projects while the same select few, already prosperous, MBE's were included on every major city project. 

        While he is well-known for landmark successes in his career as a general contractor, Robert Clay's genius was not confined to the field of contracting.  Unconventional and creative, he enjoyed business successes from retail to real estate as he enthusiastically sold his treasured "Natures Wonder" and liberally invested in real estate to provide low income housing for people. He also tried his hand with several other business ventures, including a restaurant, arcade, funeral home, and a liquor store. Robert had the Midas touch.  Instead of spinning straw into gold, Robert liked to boast, "Give me lemons and I'll make lemonade."    Robert was never afraid to try new things or to take substantial risks with high stakes.

      Robert loved people and enjoyed interacting with everyone, young and old, rich and poor.  Robert was often in the public eye because he breathed life into every place he entered.  Robert had a magnetic energy which drew people to him.  After talking to him, you always felt better because he was genuinely interested in what you had to say.  Robert was a "fix it" man.  His moral compass would not allow him to encounter a person with a problem and not do what he could to fix it.  He derived personal pleasure from bringing pleasure to others.   Throughout the 1970's and 1980's, Robert opened his estate in Laurel, Maryland to thousands of people, families,  and organizations for parties, retreats, reunions and other social events.

       In 1982, Robert's desire to create an atmosphere in which others could have a good time, resulted in his opening one of Baltimore's first "BUPPIE" nightclubs, the 32nd Street Plahza.  The Plahza filled a void in nightlife entertainment for middle class Blacks,  ‘up n comers' and ‘wanna be's'.  Demonstrative of Robert's flamboyant and extravagant style, the Plahza boasted a full jazz club that attracted all of the best local and nationally renowned artists.  The discoteque was a dance lovers haven and a mecca for singles.  Many families in and around Baltimore owe their origins to mom and dad's "hooking up" at the Plahza.

      Robert Clay's life proved that there are no limits, no boundaries to what a determined man can accomplish.   Robert went from digging ditches for his father's company to bidding and performing numerous multi-million dollar contracts.  Notwithstanding his personal success, Robert remained unpretentious and down to earth.  He was a people person who enjoyed interacting with the man on the street and is known for "helping up" the unemployed and underemployed.  Robert Clay's example shows that a Black man can be successful without selling out.

      Robert Clay has been referred to as a political "King Maker".  He understood the importance of the interplay between business and politics.  Robert Clay believed that the success of Black businesses was inextricably intertwined with the success of Black politicians.   When Robert Clay believed in a candidate for political office, he left no stone unturned in his efforts to help and support a victory.  Clay's "all-out" efforts have been heralded  for the Honorable Kurt Schmoke's successful election as Mayor of Baltimore in 1987; Honorable Kenneth Lavon Johnson as Circuit Court Judge in 1982;  and Honorable Elijah Cummings election to the United States Congress in 1997; and most recently, the election of Jill P. carter to the Maryland House of Delegates in 2002.

      Clay is noted for working equally as hard for less successful candidates, such as: Honorable William H. "Billy" Murphy's bid for mayor in 1982; former City Council Presidents' Mary Pat Clarke and Lawrence Bell's bids for mayor in 1994 and 1998, respectively; and his own bid for the House of Delegates, District 40, in 1992. 

   Robert Clay was a member of the First Baptist Church of Guilford; president of the Maryland Minority Business Association (MMBA); a member of the Prince Hall Mason's, Hannibal Lodge #8, and a lifetime member of the NAACP.

      In 1975, the city of Laurel renamed a street "Clay's Lane" in appreciation of  Robert's rehabilitation efforts.  From 1974 to 2004, Robert Clay received in excess of 75 honors and awards for his civic and business contributions, including: 1986, Maryland Legislative Black Caucus "Outstanding Businessman of the Year"; 1997, "Valued Hour Award" from the Fullwood Foundation, for Outstanding community Service and Devoted Efforts to Create and Sharing throughout the Baltimore Metropolitan Region; and 1998,  Clay was  named a "Living Legend" by the African American Heritage Society of Maryland, Inc., and a host of other awards and commendations.

 

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