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"Our phone would ring, and there would the ID for Starker's. It was John on the line, and he wanted to pick Marilyn's brain," Gilbert says.
His parents were his staff for the Starker's booth that McClure ran at the Plaza Art Fair the past three years. Marilyn also baked for the restaurant sometimes. This year, she shrank her cinnamon rolls — the ones that lured McClure out of bed on Friday mornings as a teenager — down to amuse-bouche size for a Mother's Day brunch.
That impulse toward family, toward closeness, also fueled McClure's charitable works. The Cliff Bath Memorial Scholarship Fund has raised more than $100,000 in four years to help students pursue secondary education in the restaurant and hospitality fields. And McClure donated his food, talent and personality to several other causes.
He was known for his annual crawfish boil, a Memorial Day weekend party that mushroomed in size to more than 500 people this year because of an open Facebook invitation. Westport Café and Bar co-owner and chef Aaron Confessori, who lived across the street from McClure's West Plaza home, found himself recruited to run a satellite party. Far from lamenting the prospect of cooking 200 pounds of crawfish, McClure, Confessori recalls, was just excited about a backyard Mardi Gras.
"He never lost that childlike enthusiasm, and I think that's what separates the truly successful people. They can remain enthused and not be consumed by the day to day," Confessori says.
At last year's crawfish boil, McClure also enlisted the help of fellow neighbor Dan Doty. Back in 2009, Doty had invited McClure, who was new to the block, over for a spaghetti dinner. The pair matched each other, meatball for meatball.
"You eat until you're miserable," Doty says, "but you're going to have a great time doing it."
After nearly a case of wine, as his guests left and the backyard fire they'd been sitting around began to dwindle, Doty was ready to call it a night. But McClure, with that crooked smile, asked if his host had anything else to burn. A pair of lacquered doors and an antique library table later, Doty and McClure had forged a permanent friendship.
"He claimed me," Doty says. "He was really good at putting people in a position where they think something was their idea."
The idea that McClure and Doty shared was Barrio, a taqueria concept that McClure had tested with pop-ups this year, most recently at the Twin City Tavern. In the spring, Doty agreed to partner with McClure and to run the place for the chef. Now he's meeting with potential investors in the hopes of still launching the restaurant at 4141 Pennsylvania by the end of the year.
"He gave me the confidence to do it," Doty says. "And it's still a really good idea. John and I were real similar. John just had a little bigger voice. I don't know if I can match it, but I'll try my best to fill it."
The memorial service for McClure was held Saturday, October 29, in the Tescott High School gymnasium, 17 years after his graduation.
"The leaves were falling from the yellow cottonwoods, and the green wheat was just starting to come up," Gilbert says. "There's always something coming and going."
Sitting in the front row for the service was Pablo Muñoz, a 2010 award recipient of the Cliff Bath Memorial Scholarship, and his mother.
"John wanted other people to succeed. He told Pablo to dream big," Marilyn says. "Pablo's mother wanted me to understand just how much John had helped Pablo."