Oil rig widow to Obama: ‘Where does the blame lie?’

theGRIO Q & A - Sheila Clark, who tragically lost her husband of 20 years in the April 20th explosion opens up about the oil spill and President Obama's response...

Luther Vandross was outed as gay after his death.

Sheila Clark, who tragically lost her husband of 20 years in the April 20th Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion, opens up to theGrio about how she thinks the Obama administration has reacted to the tragedy; what she’d like to hear the president say to the nation tonight, and what she wants everyone to know about her husband, Donald Clark.

theGrio: First why don’t we start with you telling me about your husband and what kind of man he was and what your relationship was like through the years.

Clark: He was a great man. He was a very family oriented man. He loved his family. He looked forward to coming home all the time and we were always doing something as a family, we spent a lot of time doing family things you know. If it was no more than just, you know just doing things out in the yard. He was always doing something with his hands and you know so anything that he could do, the family, myself and our children could do together was always enjoyable to him. So he was a very family oriented person.

He had a whole lot of presence here and we always, each of us were always looking forward to when he returned cause we knew we were going to be doing some things, having some fun, just spending time together. We have a lot of love in our family, and he was just great he was just like the driving force in our family and he’s going to be so missed he already, we miss him so much.

theGrio: Did you have any children together? I know this must be hard for them or maybe his extended family, how are they dealing with this right now?

Clark: We have four children. Two of our children are adults, one is the military and then I have a son who lives in Illinois there. They’ve started their own families and moved away from home. We have two here at home. We have our baby, she’s 18 and just graduated from high school, so he wasn’t here for that and we have a son, that’s here also and he’s 20. So I have two that are here and yes it’s difficult for them.

theGrio: Let me take you back if I can to the day of the accident. When did you first hear that something had happened?

Clark: My telephone rang at like two in the morning and the first time it rang, you know I answered, it did wake me and I answered the phone and there must have been some trouble with the line or something, a call didn’t get through. I just heard a strange sound on the phone like a, it sound, put me in the mind of like a bullhorn or something you know and it just was trouble with the line so it seemed disconnected and I hung up. And of course that kept me up, you know wondering you know, your phone rings 2 o’clock in the morning you know it can’t be anything good. But then the call came through a second time in the next 30 minutes and we got a call from the company and the only thing they said was that there had been an emergency out on the rig that my husband worked on. They said they knew nothing really as far as details but only that the Coast Guard was on the scene. And that’s all they told me.

theGrio: That was it?

Clark: And that’s it and I said well what, are they ok? You know that’s all they told me. So they hung up and that was the end of that conversation. So I got on the internet and then I was able to see that there was an actual explosion on that rig and they knew that but I guess that’s all the individual was, you know, ordered to say.

theGrio: Would your husband be gone for days or weeks at a time and then come back and how long had he worked for this specific company?

Clark: Donald worked for this company about 15 years and he worked 21 days out, 21 days he would be home. And that’s why you know him coming home was just such a big deal to our family cause we were all very close and we always did things together. So him coming home was the time when we would catch up. Although, we were always staying in touch with email and he would call when he could, but we stayed in touch by email all the time. But him coming home was just like a big deal to us you know cause he had been gone he would be always you know be gone 21 days so now we get to have him for 21 days and we always looked forward to that.

theGrio: So after you saw the information on the Internet what happened then and what were you thinking and what were you processing at that time?

Clark: After we, after I pulled up on the internet that there was an actual explosion right then and there I couldn’t, the only thing I could do was just pray. I was scared to death. I mean you hear explosion, that’s just like, that’s terrible. But you know I was optimistic and I just prayed and I just, I laid down in bed until I was drifting in out just you know waiting to hear something definite. I work in the school system, I got up that next morning had to go to work. I really tried to carry the day on and just try to be as normal as I can.

It’s my daughter’s senior year, she’s a real daddy’s girl and I didn’t want to upset anybody cause I didn’t know anything and I really kept it to myself and just, just tried to wait it out. I got up and went to work, I was a wreck. I was just so nervous not knowing anything. I got my daughter up you know ‘it’s time to get ready for school’ and I got up and I tried to go to work. I went in to work I shared it with my school principal that something was going on, I had no idea what was going on and I didn’t know if or when I’d have to leave.

Then it’s all on the news and everything and my daughter she’s at school and then I became concerned you don’t want them to hear anything like that from their schoolmates. And I heard that they had rescued several people and that’s all we had so far that some people had, that the Coast Guard had rescued right then and there I didn’t I didn’t even know you know that he was one of the eleven missing. But I went to my daughter’s school the school she attends is like 13 miles from the school where I work and I went to get her with a friend of mine and we told her something has happened out there and your dad was involved and we don’t know anything. Of course that was very upsetting to her and we brought her home and we just kind of waited it out. Then on the news it said we got all but 11. I didn’t know if my Donald was a part of the 11 or not. Somebody, I still didn’t find out who it was called the local police here and told the police that someone needed to go to my house with me; I had gone back home to be here with my daughter and they needed to let me know and they didn’t want me to be alone and they told me that he was actually one of the 11 that were missing.

theGrio: And what time because you had gotten that call at 2 o’ clock in the morning, what time was this by, by the time someone actually came to tell you?

Clark: You know I want to say that that call came in around close to 11, somewhere between 11 and 12 o’ clock.

theGrio: In the afternoon or in the evening?

Clark: No in the afternoon. You know when they actually told me that he was one of the 11. You know I really, I went into a, I don’t know I was, it was a numbness. I’ve never been through anything like that. It was very surreal then you know.

theGrio: The president is speaking (tonight) about oil spill, as well as other things affecting the nation. Have you been satisfied with President Obama’s and his administration’s response to this disaster?

Clark: You know I just left Washington D.C. I went to meet with him. He invited us to the White House, the president and he wanted to offer his condolences, personally offer his condolences so we received an invitation to come. So I just left Washington, where I met with him. I am a real supporter of Mr. Obama and so I’ve always felt like if he could do anything that he would be on the job. But after I went to meet him you know I just feel all the more confident. He really, I feel, we all walked away from there feeling you know as good as we possibly could. We felt like he was earnest in telling us that he was going to do everything he can to find out what was what and do what you know what he needs to do to make sure you know people, basically people are doing their jobs. As he said including the government we can’t let anything like this happen. I really feel like he’s going to do everything within his power you know to get to the bottom of it and to fix whatever, whatever needs to be fixed.

Things need to be corrected, people need to be accountable for their job and someone needs to make sure that they’re doing their job you know. And that’s why I left him feeling like he’s going to put all these things in order, things that should have been in order already. Or you know it’s a lot of things that are on paper you know things that are written down and people are just assuming people are doing what they’re supposed to be doing and now we find out that’s not the case and we lost 11 lives you know because nobody’s checking. And I feel like he, he’s going to correct that I do I really feel like he’s going to correct that and hopefully we won’t have anything like this. This actually, this happened we all know the work those men did were dangerous my husband knew it was dangerous we all knew it was but this could have been prevented.

theGrio: When Obama addresses the nation, what would you like to hear him say to the country about incidents like this?

Clark: That’s a good question. I didn’t even realize that he was going to be speaking but now I am going to watch it. I don’t watch a whole lot of news now. I always watched the news up until this accident I don’t watch too much of it now…

You know he assured us that he was going to do but I would like to hear him to go into as much detail as he can. How the steps, the measures he’s going to take to go about you know taking care of this and making sure that people are doing what they’re supposed to be doing. He admitted that the government dropped the ball and there’s things that they weren’t doing but I’d like to hear him say on tomorrow exactly what is it that he’s going to do.

theGrio: Obviously this tragedy has brought the controversial subject of offshore drilling to the forefront. With the tragedy that you’ve had to go through, how do you feel about offshore drilling now you know since your loss?

Clark: You know my Donald, never in-depth, didn’t talk about what all went into his job out there. When he came home he was at home with us and he left his job out there on the rig but he made a good living you know. We’re living in a rural area and there’s not a lot of work and there’s a lot of little towns that don’t have a lot of work and people can’t make a decent living. And a lot of times the men who want to take care and want to move ahead in life they have to leave home to make the money and bring it back. I don’t have a problem with offshore or deepwater drilling, it just needs to be safer.

It’s a good living and my husband loved what he was doing you know as dangerous as it was and he loved what he was doing. It’s a good living and it provides for the family of these men so you know I don’t have a problem with it but it just needs to be safer. People need to make, the government needs to make sure that you know that these companies are doing what they’re supposed to do to make it safe for these men. I don’t have a problem with, it’s a great, it’s a great living he was able to provide for his family. All these guys and they had you know good lives and they were able to take care of their little babies and everything, and that’s what you want. That’s the American dream you just want to be able to live good and take care of your family and have the health care you need and it provided, all of that. So I wouldn’t say anything negative about the way they made a living per se.

theGrio: What do you want to see happen in regards to safety on these rigs so that this sort of tragedy doesn’t happen to anyone again?

Clark: If I knew exactly what happened out there I probably could answer that question better. I really don’t know exactly what happened out there. I know these guys were some of the best out there. My husband was really good at what he did. He knew his job and those guys out there they knew what they were doing. Whatever happened out there it was something beyond them. They take safety courses. I mean safety is like first and foremost with that company it always has been. He practices those same safety measures when he came home. I mean he was on a real safety kick, always over the years. And I know that they were doing their job and they did their job properly.

But I don’t know what happened out there and I’ve had guys that were out there, well now they can’t, for whatever reason they’re not, you know they put muzzles on their mouths but when this first happened these grown men would call me crying and they would tell me, the only thing they knew, they say we did it all right but something went wrong. And some of them really wanted to talk and were unable to talk because they just saw so much they were just so shook up but now they won’t talk at all to you about it. But I don’t know what to say as far as what they need to do to you know what measures they need to take to make sure they’re, it’s safer out there because I don’t know what went on out there. 

theGrio: To that point, are you satisfied enough with what the company has been telling you?

Clark: Oh absolutely they were holding things back because I know they knew an explosion occurred that night but they didn’t tell me that. That’s the first thing that they held back from me that there was an actual explosion instead of just saying something happened. When I went to Washington the other day and was able to look at some of the other women and talk with some of the other families and they, they’re all convinced that they’ve held things from the families and they know more than they’re saying. It’s a whole lot of unanswered questions right now.

theGrio: So are you hoping then that President Obama and his administration can get those answers for you?

Clark: I certainly do. We need to know what happened. You know I said that at the press conference, we just need to know what happened. We’re interested in knowing just what did happen. Where does the blame lie? Just for the sake of just knowing.

theGrio: What do you want people to remember about your husband?

Clark: He was a Godly man, a very God-fearing man. He loved the Lord. He loved his family and the work that he did he took much pride in it. He did it well and he did it to make a better life for us.