Born in the Bronx in 1929, Mary Higgins Clark was the daughter of an Irish-American pub owner. Her father died when she was 10, forcing her family to move to a small apartment above a tailor’s shop. Clark won a scholarship to a girls’ academy in high school and worked part time as a switchboard operator and babysitter. Eager to help her mother with finances, she put off college to work full time after her high school graduation.
Clark attended secretarial school and then worked as an advertising assistant. Three years later, she became a flight attendant for Pan Am. She traveled the world for a year and then married Warren Clark, whom she had known since she was 16. While raising five children, she found time to take a creative writing course at New York University. In 1964, after 15 years of marriage, her husband died. To support her family, Clark began writing radio scripts during the day and ventured into book writing in the early morning hours before getting her children off to school. Her first book was a biography of George Washington. It was published, but did not do well commercially. Next, she turned to the type of fiction she had always enjoyed reading: suspense novels. Inspired by a true murder case in the news at the time, Clark wrote the 1975 bestseller Where Are the Children?. It marked a turning point in her life and career.
To get her education, Clark used part of the proceeds from that book. She graduated summa cum laude from Fordham University with a degree in philosophy. With her second book, A Stranger Is Watching, Clark made her first $1 million. Both of those books were made into feature films. Clark became one of the most successful authors in the United States, and the top-selling fiction author in France. She wrote more than 20 suspense novels, all of which became bestsellers. Many of her books were also made into television films. Clark also wrote three successful suspense novels with her daughter, Carol. In 2002, she published her memoirs, Kitchen Privileges.
When asked about her success, Clark said she was never one to put off what she felt she needed to do—especially writing. She advised young people to take their education seriously. “Money alone is a hollow achievement,” said Clark. “Develop your talents and work to instill basic values in your life. Follow your dream, and don’t put off what you hanker to do.”
Active in Catholic affairs, Clark was made Dame of the Order of St. Gregory the Great, a papal honor. After many years of widowhood, she married John Conheeney in 1996. Between them, they had 16 grandchildren.