Melinda and Clark Vaughn
Early in the 1980s, a young lawyer came to Mammoth Lakes and started a general practice. He had a pretty wife and two very young children; he was a big guy, good-looking, with a quick smile and an easy, relaxed air about him.
I got to know Clark Vaughn, and found him to be a capable, intelligent attorney with a well-developed sense of fairness and equity. Clark was a nice guy, someone who you’d like to go out and have a beer with at the end of the day.
One time, after we got to know each other, we were sitting around talking and Clark told me that he had lost a big client. What happened, I asked? Well, he said, the client, a large local developer, had his number two guy who did all his front work, call me in to talk about the litigation I was preparing on behalf of his boss.
“He said he wanted me to go to Bridgeport and talk to the judge about it beforehand and make sure we were going to prevail.”
Clark then said, “I explained to the man that doing such a thing would be completely unethical, improper, and that I wasn’t going to indulge in that sort of behavior, I’ll just win the case on the merits.”
At the time, sadly, there was a judge in Bridgeport (this was a long time ago and the judge in question has been dead many years) who welcomed extra-judicial contacts, especially on behalf of well-heeled clients, and would very likely be happy to let the lawyer know exactly what to do to win the case.
Then Clark continued “A couple of days ago, the number two guy called and told me they had obtained other local counsel and would not need my services any further.”
Wow, I thought, here he is with a wife and kids, bills aplenty, and this was the largest developer in town. That took a lot of guts, especially knowing that there were several other local attorneys who would be happy to follow those instructions, and that he could ill afford to lose a big client like that. I realized then that Clark was no ordinary attorney and no ordinary guy.
Clark continued to practice law in Mammoth, but at the same time, he and his wife became more and more involved in their church and doing things that were both helping people and, at the same time, expressing their religious beliefs by deed as well as word.
In 1988, they went on a trip to Ecuador with a team from Church on the Mountain in Crowley Lake, and, at the end of two weeks, they had found their true calling.
It was no surprise when he told me that he and his family were going to move to Ecuador and start an organization that would rescue abandoned babies, give them shelter, medical care, food, and lots of love.
Clark, I asked, “you don’t have a lot of money, how are you going to support your wife and family?”
Well, he said, we’re going to ask people to contribute and that’s how we’ll get by.” Man, I thought, that is some tough road to hoe, no income, no assured place, a different society, two kids of your own, and you don’t even speak Spanish.
But Clark and his wife, Melinda and their two kids, Philip and Lesley proceeded to do just that as a tribute to their deep spirituality, and their abiding belief that a dedication to God meant dedicating themselves to their fellow man.
They arrived in Ecuador where their new home, Quito, was at 9,300 feet, an even higher altitude then Mammoth Lakes. Ecuador, besides having much extreme poverty, also is burdened with a volatile political system. Crime is rampant and most homes have barred windows, while shops, banks, and even neighborhoods are protected by private armed guards brandishing rifles and shotguns.
Ecuador made no pretense of welcoming the Vaughns in their first years in country, calling them extranjeros, foreigners, and worse. Their organization, Para Sus Ninos, wasn’t really welcome either; the Ecuadorian government was embarrassed that such an organization was necessary, and being run by Norteamericanos, which they took as a slap at the ability of their own country to look after their most vulnerable citizens. The Vaughns had constant problems trying to legitimize their activities, follow the local laws, get needed permissions to operate, etc. All of this was done on a shoestring. At the same time, they had two kids of their own to support and educate, all the while in a strange, and difficult environment.
But the Vaughns were confident of their calling. They turned their rented home into a place that welcomed abandoned children, special needs children, almost every one malnourished and neglected. After awhile, the Vaughns became so well regarded as caretakers of children with moderate to severe special physical and/or cognitive needs that they became the go-to place for kids with these kind of handicaps. Today, the Vaughns’ operation has grown to include a foster home in another of Ecuador’s major cities, Latacunga, and they employ a virtual army of local women who care for the children. Hundreds of kids owe their very survival to the Vaughns’ organization.
While the Vaughns make every effort to reunite each child with his or her birth family if possible, the majority of children at Para Sus Ninos (For His Children) find their forever family via national and international adoption. The children who have not been adopted because of their severe special needs remain under the permanent care of FHC. After twenty years of this ceaseless service, Clark and Melinda decided it was time to think about easing into retirement. With that in mind, Clark bought a modest house in Navarre, Florida, where they could be close to their grandchildren and in 2010, they started happily living in Florida part-time while shuttling back and forth to Ecuador.
Son Philip is now a Special Ops pilot in the U.S. Air Force, stationed in Pensacola, Fla. He is married to an Ecuadorian national, Daniela, and they have two beautiful children.
Daughter Lesley has become an accomplished professional dancer, including an appearance at the 2012 Super Bowl.
In late 2010, Clark found himself dealing with increasing physical problems that inhibited his ability to do his normal work and was ultimately diagnosed with A.L.S., also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.
As the illness ran its course, Clark became less and less able to take care of himself and eventually required a wheelchair to get around. As his condition worsened, he started to lose the power of speech and every physical task needed Melinda or a caretaker’s help to complete.
On Saturday, March 10 at the age of 63, Clark Vaughn, surrounded by his immediate family, passed away.