Emily Clyburn — longtime wife Rep. Jim Clyburn — dies at 80
© Stefani Reynolds

Activist and librarian Emily England Clyburn, Rep. James Clyburn’s (D-S.C.) wife of nearly six decades, died Thursday at the age of 80, the House majority whip’s office announced.

Emily Clyburn met her husband, a fellow South Carolina State College alumnus, in jail after they were arrested for a civil rights demonstration, and married him in 1961, the congressman's office said.


She served as a public school librarian in Charleston, S.C., and Columbia, S.C., before becoming a medical librarian at Charleston Naval Base and Dorn VA Medical Center in Columbia, where she worked for nearly three decades, the office added.

The Clyburns were also longtime supporters of their alma mater and earlier this year redesignated $1.7 million in funds they raised and contributed to the school over the years to establish the Dr. Emily England Clyburn Honors College Scholarship Endowment.

James Clyburn has credited his wife with pushing him to run for office, saying that she told him, “I just wonder when you are going to stop talking about South Carolina’s problems and start doing something about them,” after he delivered a speech at a housing conference in 1971, according to The State.

In his 2014 memoir, James Clyburn recalled a note his wife taped to their mirror after he won the primary for a seat in the state legislature, which he later referred back to after losing in the general election: “When you win, brag gently. When you lose, weep softly.”  

“Emily Clyburn was a champion of equality and opportunity who made a difference for countless young people in her beloved South Carolina,” Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiTrump's Intel moves spark Democratic fury Buttigieg sounds alarm after Sanders wins Nevada Russian interference reports rock Capitol Hill MORE (D-Calif.) said in a statement.

“As a librarian, she intimately understood the power of learning to transform lives, and dedicated decades to ensuring that every child, servicemember, veteran and worker could access a good education that would allow him or her to climb the ladders of opportunity in America,” Pelosi added.

In addition to her husband, Emily Clyburn is survived by three daughters, Mignon, Jennifer and Angela, and four grandchildren.