Clara O’Donnell, a European in every good sense of the word, departed this world on January 16 at the tragically young age of 30. In her too short life, Clara accomplished a great deal: both as remarkably gifted human being who lit up every room she entered, and as an accomplished scholar of the transatlantic community.Clara’s main professional affiliations were as a nonresident fellow in the Center on the United States and Europe at the Brookings Institution, and as a senior fellow at the London-based Centre for European Reform (CER). Her chosen field of expertise was defense policy, more specifically transatlantic defense co-operation. In addition to her work for Brookings and CER, she penned articles and papers for International Affairs, Europe's World, Jane's Defense Weekly, European Voice, and the EU Institute for Security Studies. Clara’s death came shockingly quickly, having being diagnosed a few months ago with an incurable illness.
Fiona Hill, Director of Brookings’ Center on the United States and Europe who was close to Clara, says that she learned from Clara “how to be Irish, British, Spanish and European, grow up in Brussels and live in America, all while never appearing out of place.” Fiona notes that “she published thought-provoking articles on transatlantic defense and conceptualized and convened high-level workshops and seminars on European security issues in Washington. Her network of transatlantic connections was extensive and diverse.” The daughter of an Anglo-Irish father and a Spanish mother, Clara spoke Dutch, French, Italian, and Spanish, as well as English. (To read Fiona’s personal tribute to Clara, see www.brookings.edu/blogs/up-front/posts/2014/01/21-remembrances-clara-odonnell-hill)
It was Clara’s expertise in drone technology that led me to call on her when I was researching an article on the fledgling European drone industry for European Affairs back in late 2012 (www.europeaninstitute.org/EA-November-2012/the-drone-debate-grows-in-europe.html). Clara was so deft at seamlessly explaining this complex topic, so generous with her time, and so gracious and kind during our exchanges, that it was a real pleasure working with her.
That was not the first time, nor the last, that our paths crossed. Back in Brussels, where I worked as the justice and home affairs correspondent for Europolitics from 2000-2006, I had the good fortune to have as my colleague Clara’s equally charming and brilliant father, Peter O’Donnell. Our correspondent for EU enlargement and defense policies, Peter shared an open-plan newsroom office with myself and others. He often spoke about Clara and always with the tone of a justifiably proud and loving father. I remember when the term ‘Sciences Po’ entered my lexicon for the first time after Peter told me Clara would be studying at the prestigious institute of political sciences in Paris. Clara occasionally stopped by our office and when she did, she always radiated a relaxed and positive aura.
I was therefore delighted to learn that Clara had traversed the pond to join the ranks at Brookings. When we chatted at Brookings events over those irresistible complimentary cookies – ‘brookies’ I believe they are called - it was obvious to me that she had quickly forged a close affinity with Washington and had made many friends. One of my fondest memories was at the bar of the Washington Plaza hotel at Thomas Circle, enjoying drinks and laughs with Clara and her dad Peter, who was over visiting. It was a balmy summer’s evening in Washington, I was about to head out for an evening run, and they were settling in for an evening of catching up.
Clara’s last earthly moments were spent at a London hospice with her parents Peter and Carmen and her brothers, Tony and Ben, at her bedside. In touching emails, Peter recounted how she retained her sharp wit and warm glow to the end. She will be dearly missed and fondly remembered.
A memorial requiem and reception will be held for Clara in London at a later date. Clara’s family ask that those who would like to make a gesture in her honor donate to the Trinity Hospice in Clapham, London, which cared for her in her final days (www.trinityhospice.org.uk).
A memorial mass will be held this Saturday, January 25 at 12:10pm at Saint Stephen Martyr Church on 2436 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, D.C.