The Honorable Lady Clarissa da Svizzera (mka Heidi Wright) died unexpectedly at home on February 11 at age 63.
Clarissa was best known as a chirurgeon, a needleworker, and a purveyor of tart observations and acerbic humor. But she was also known for her bountiful kindness and generosity.
Mundanely a nurse, Clarissa served as Baronial and Principality Chirurgeon and spent many years working at Chirurgeon’s Point at Pennsic. She received her Award of Arms in A.S. 22, a Keystone in A.S. 25, and the East Kingdom’s Silver Crescent (roughly equivalent to a Millrind) in A.S. 30, primarily for that work.
Over the years Clarissa and her husband, Lord Coinneach Mac an Leigh, lived in many places. She joined the SCA in Thescorre as a student at the University of Rochester nursing school, although she learned about the Society when she was in high school, through college students at SUNY Geneseo where her father was a professor. After graduating from nursing school, she moved to the Rhydderich Hael to work at the Roswell Cancer Center as a pediatric nurse. It was while living in the Hael that she met and later married Coinneach, who was from the Shire of Riversmeet in Charleston, WV (now Blackstone Mountain.) After marrying, they lived in Riversmeet for six years, then moved to the Barony of Red Spears (Toledo, OH) in the Midrealm where they lived for seventeen years. Their final move was back to Thescorre, where they cared for Clarissa’s ailing father until his passing. Along the way they had a daughter, Rebecca (‘Becca), who is now 30.
At one time, Clarissa was a member of one of the cannon crews that mark the start and end of battles at Pennsic. Many Chirurgeons remember her fondly from their time together at Pennsic. Mistress Amaryllis Coleman, who served as Principality and East Kingdom Chirurgeon as well as Head of Chirurgeon’s Point at Pennsic in the 1990s, remembers “The most difficult part of the Pennsic Chirurgeonate was not the battles; they are intense, but there are also plenty of people around. The long, dark, cold nights, with the partying, the blades, the fires, and storms, staffed by a few dedicated crews, can be the scariest. Being Pennsic Chirurgeon and in charge of the Point, one thinks of plenty of things that can go wrong. However, as so many have observed, Clarissa would take that difficult shift, which lifted a great burden from me, but made it fun and attracted others to her team!” She also noted that Clarissa “had magnificent hair, but it had a mind of its own. She loved to have it braided whenever we were together.”
Viscount Brocc of Alderden, OP, OL, worked with THLady Clarissa for about 15 years at Pennsic, and recalls “Clarissa was always cheerful, fun and helpful. She managed to keep the seriousness of what was going on in chirurgeon’s point there, while not letting it become depressing. She was a good leader for us. I will always remember her smile.”
Mistress Mairghead Stíobhard inghean uí Choinne says “I remember Clarissa attending every monthly A&S meeting when I was A&S minister for Thescorre for three years or more. She was always doing needlework and her blackwork was exquisite. She cheerfully painted game boards for Pennsic Childrens’ area, stamped napkins for Pax or whatever was requested sprinkled with her salty humor.
Specifically with respect to children, I remember Clarissa (and Coinneach) basically sponsoring an entire family with five or six children when Thescorre was trying to recruit new members as far as Geneseo where they lived. Clarissa and Coinneach transported the family to events and A&S and social meetings in Thescorre. Her patience and fairness was a joy to see. In addition, when the last Yeoman’s Event was held in Thescorre, Clarissa taught me and some others how to play what I believe was a form of Nine Man Morris on a lovely blackwork gameboard she had crafted.”
Lady Simonetta d’Alfassi recalls “A HARROWING trip we made to Dragonship Haven [in Connecticut]. We were attending the investiture of Baron Joseph of the Red Griffin and Baroness Bronwen Rose of Greyling, who was a friend of Clarissa’s. We drove through one of the worst winter storms I can remember – going 20 MPH on the highway. Then we went shopping in the most epic needlework shop ever, The Thistle in Glastonbury, CT — IN GARB. The patrons gave us the usual “are you in a play?” looks but the staff LOVED it and kept showing us “the special stock” because they thought we’d be more interested in the more historic-inspired pieces they had.”
Mistress Arianna of Wynthrope remembers the many kindnesses Clarissa bestowed on her friends. “As all parents know, the first few weeks with a new baby can be really rough, especially on the mom. When my older son Kenneth was born, Clarissa dropped everything and drove to Pittsburgh with her then-four-year-old daughter to spend a week with us to help out. She also embroidered baby quilts for both of my sons.”
Her kindness to others was noted by many of her friends. Mistress Áine inghean Fhlaithimhin said “In the entire time we worked together at Chirurgeons’ Point, I never once saw her kindness or compassion for others wane, no matter how busy [we were] or how many gentles were waiting to be treated. That is what impressed me most as a new Chirurgeon. Clarissa’s empathy for others was something I tried to emulate with every person seeking treatment at CP.”
Viscountess Hodierna Miriglee of Lincludin commented “Clarissa and I became friends more years ago that I can remember. I remember long chats over tables and tasks. Reconnecting time after time as I moved around the Known Worlde. As I drifted away into daily life and our connection became virtual, she was quick with a supportive word, kind thoughts, encouragement, and a kindly shared laugh or joke. Her heart was so open and all-encompassing, she lived the example of loving and serving others. Our world is dimmer for her absence and better for her presence with us. May her memory ever be a blessing and the tales of her deeds inspire others.”
THLord Robert Pour Maintenant recalls that Clarissa always noticed when people needed something, even when it wasn’t obvious to others. “At an Ice Dragon years ago, Clarissa was working as one of the Chirurgeons during the tourney. Partway through she made sure that the marshals received some water to stay hydrated. The marshals were not exerting themselves like the fighters were, but were stuck in their lists, unlike the fighters who could step out to get a drink.”
THLord Richard Tyler of Swiftwater was another beneficiary of Clarissa’s kindness. “We were both living in the Midrealm when I had gall bladder surgery. One day shortly afterwards, she stopped by my house on her way home just as I was leaving for work, and provided a “drive by nursing.” I was already in the car, so she had me roll down the window. She checked and adjusted the bandage on the incision before I left for work.”
Clarissa was also noted for her quirky sense of humor. THLord Gareth the Eccentric of Saint Albans, former Principality Chronicler, says “I met Clarissa through the SCA almost exactly 35 years ago. She was wonderfully kind, caring, and funny. Clarissa was a nurse, and also connected to heraldry. At the time, the heraldic device that the Chirurgeons’ Guild used was a red cross on a white teardrop on a red background. Clarissa had a hard time remembering if it was red cross on white teardrop on white background or white cross on red teardrop on white background. However, one day she said “Oh! It’s ‘Sperm for Christ!'” and NONE of us ever had a problem recalling that [badge] again.”
Another bit of humor Clarissa loved was flaunting her leeches. In the middle ages, practitioners of the medical arts were sometimes called “leeches” because leeches were used to bleed patients to rid them of “bad humors.” Clarissa attached several small fabric leeches (basically stuffed animal versions) to her straw hat which she wore often at outdoor events. Aine commented “The hat with the leeches and [Pennsic] badges was legendary! No need for heraldry when she was wearing that hat on the side of the battlefield.”
While she did not use a pen or paint, Clarissa produced award medallions and SCA scrolls with her amazing embroidery skills. Mistress Sadira bint Wassouf, says “Clarissa met Saleem long before he joined the SCA when he was in college at Geneseo. Her dad was my biology prof. She was a prolific needle artist both in the SCA and in modern life. Every piece was perfect! One of her most intricate pieces was Saleem’s Pelican scroll, which now graces my gallery. It is a beautiful memory of her friendship and her artistry.’
Pelican and Pel-Laurel medallions made by Clarissa. Photos courtesy of THL Richard Tyler of Swiftwater.
Mistress Amaryllis also shared this photo of a needlepoint that Clarissa made as a gift for her, of her favorite flower – the amaryllis, of course.
A funding campaign has been set up by Clarissa’s daughter, Becca, to help defray the cost of her mother’s final arrangements. Donations can be made here.