Clara Mae Madden Bower

13 July 1923 - 19 December 2003

Fourth Generation Madden

Clara Mae Madden was born on Friday, 13 July 1923 in a rooming house on Travis Street in Houston, Texas. Since there was no doctor present she was delivered by a midwife.

Her father, Fredrick (Fred) John Madden (January 25, 1883 - November 15, 1968) and Dora Lee Madden (Davis) (September 25, 1888 - January 19, 1976) with their son, Preston Edward (September 25, 1908 – December 25, 1991), had moved to Houston from Rockport, Texas to find a better life for the family.

They lived in Rockport, Texas where Preston was born. Since Fred was a union carpenter it was easy for him to find work in the booming economy of Houston. Dora and Fred both came from poor families who had lived on the Texas coast. Dora was born and raised in Fulton. Fred was born on Matagorda Island and moved with his family to the “Black Jack” area as a young boy. The “Black Jack” peninsula is now a national wildlife preserve which is known for the wintering grounds of the last of the giant Whooping Cranes.

Sometime during the years of the Great Depression, after 1929, the family was able to move to the East side of Houston close to the 75th street Bridge that crosses over Buffalo Bayou. They rented a house on Avenue W. The house was close to the shipyards on the bayou and Clara Mae always remembered bullets coming through the walls of the house during a labor strike there.

During the time when they lived on Avenue W Clara Mae remembered Fred having a garden beside the house where he grew tomatoes from the plants that he collected near the bayou down from the sewer processing plant. He would raise the tomatoes and Clara Mae would have the job of going door to door selling them to neighbors, which was quite an embarrassment to her since she was a shy, young girl.

During those years her maternal grandmother, Sarah Jane Davis (Newman), lived with them. She was a small, elderly woman who dipped snuff until her death at age 90. Clara Mae recalled how she kept her “spit cup” under her bed so she could have a dip before going to sleep. Clara Mae and her grandmother got to be good friends and she loved the stories of how Sarah's family had lived on a plantation in northern Louisiana when she was a young girl. Sarah was born in 1852, nine years before the start of the Civil War. Sarah’s life had been changed when the Federal Troops of the Northern Army of the U.S. came into the state and burned her family out of their plantation causing them to flee to Texas.

Although Clara Mae’s brother Preston Edward was fifteen years older than her, they always remained good friends and Clara Mae loved him very much.

Clara Mae attended schools in Houston’s East End. She went to Burnet Elementary, Edison Junior High and Austin High School.


Clara Mae graduated from high school in 1940 at the age of seventeen at the end of the 11th grade. She got a job as an office clerk at Ellington Air Force Base outside of town between Houston and Galveston. She would ride the bus from her home to work wearing a short skirt, which was the popular dress for young ladies at the time, and was told by the base commander to lengthen it a little as it was causing morale problems with some of the troops who were stationed there.

It was at this time that Clara Mae met James Lee Bower, the man she was to marry. Lee was the son of James Allen Anderson and Ruth Etta "Eloise" Griffith. They met at a party given by one of her friends for some of the boys at the base. He was a Tech Sergeant in the Air Force stationed at Ellington Air Force Base.  Later he would be sent around the country to air force training schools to become a mechanic on the B-29 Superfortress airplanes that were being sent from Tinian and Sipan to bomb the Japanese homeland during World War II.

Not long after meeting, Clara Mae and Lee were married on December 15, 1941 in Liberty, Texas. For a time they lived close to Ellington Air Force Base in a subdivision called “Dog Patch.”


Soon after, Lee was sent to Conally Air Force Base in Waco, Texas to train on B-29s there.  It was there that he began calling Clara Mae “Baby Doll” which he continued to do for the rest of their lives. While in Waco they rented a house for almost a year. It was during this time that their son, Kenneth Lee Bower, was born on February 11, 1943. From there Lee was sent to bomber training schools in Alamogordo, New Mexico; Denver, Colorado and Seattle, Washington. Clara Mae would sometimes follow him, staying on the base or nearby in town. She was living with her parents at this time, but would leave Kenneth with Fred and Dora while she was away from their house at 101 Bedford Street in Houston.

It was not until after the war in 1945 that Lee came home from the service. He wanted to stay in the Air Force as a Master Sergeant, but Clara Mae insisted that he become discharged from the service and get a job in Houston. Since he had no skills other than an airplane mechanic, he had a hard time getting and keeping a civilian job. He finally got a job with H.E. Bovay Jr., Consulting Engineers as a draftsman, using the drafting skills he had acquired in high school.

Clara Mae lived with Fred and Dora from 1945 until 1950. The house on Bedford where they lived was a duplex. Preston, his wife Lanille, their daughter (Barbara) Bobbie Nell, and their son Gary Wayne Madden lived in the other side of the duplex. This is where Clara Mae got the nickname “Mimi.” Since Bobbie Nell called her mother Mimi, Kenneth thought his mother should be Mimi as well. She took on this nickname and from this time on was always known as Mimi to all of her friends.

In 1950 Clara Mae and Lee bought a new home on the GI Bill located at 7703 Erath about a mile from her parents. During the years between 1950 and 1954 Clara Mae stayed at home as a housewife. Lee was gone on three separate occasions during this time for between 9 months and a year each time. The first time he was gone was in 1950. He was recalled to the Air Force for a year during the height of the Korean Conflict when he reported to the air force base outside of Las Vegas, Nevada. During the other times his company sent him to work in Richland, Washington and Pampa, Texas. Clara Mae and Kenneth were alone together and were helped by Fred and Dora who had a car and would take them out to do washing, to eat out on Friday evenings and to shop for groceries. Since there was a bus line close to the house, Clara Mae and Lee did not need to have a car for many years. In fact, Clara Mae never learned to drive even after they got a car years later.

During the time that Lee was at home, they would go out dancing with their neighbors to places like the old Palladium on South Main in Houston. They loved to dance and sometimes Clara Mae and Lee would go to one of the many Honky-Tonks on The Old Galveston Highway on Saturday nights.

Pictured are from left to right: Clo Stanley, Dess Stanley, Almond Powers, Marian Powers, Lee Bower, Clara Mae

Clara Mae always liked to dress up. She loved to shop downtown and she and Dora would go to town on the bus every week to buy the newest styles. She admired the beauty queens of the 1940’s and 1950’s and always attended the latest movies.


In 1953, Clara Mae attended Southwestern Business College in downtown Houston. She graduated holding the record for the fastest typist they had ever had. After graduation from business school in 1954, she began work on May 1 at Humble Oil and Refining Company as the first secretary for the Special Officer’s Department ever had. She became an honorary sheriff’s deputy and held the position as the sole secretary in that department for many years. During that time the company changed names many times. When she retired after 32 years on July 31, 1986, the company was called The Exxon Company, U.S.A.(later ExxonMobil Corp.)


With Lee and Clara Mae both working they could afford many things that were beyond their reach before she went to work. They bought a car, an air-conditioning unit for the house and were able to furnish the house with the oriental furniture and decorations that Clara Mae loved. They were now also able to travel more and took vacations to Colorado in 1955, California in 1958, Wisconsin in 1959 and Mexico in 1960.


Colorado - 1955
Mexico City



From 1961 until 1965, Clara Mae’s money allowed Kenneth to go to college at Stephen F. Austin State College in Nacogdoches, Texas. After his graduation, Clara Mae and Lee were able to afford a two-week summer vacation to many places around the world. She and her friend Doris made a trip to New York City before her many travels with Lee. She also went to Russia with her friend Doris and some other couples in 1974. She and Lee made trips to Switzerland, Germany, Austria, Hawaii, the East Coast, the Western US, a Caribbean cruise, and to Asia and Spain.


During this time Clara Mae and Lee also added a large room to the back of their house where the family celebrated Christmas each year and where they held their annual Oriental Party.

Their only natural grandchild, Todd Allen, was born on August 2, 1972. Since Clara Mae and Lee lived in the same city they were able to see Todd often as he was growing up.

Clara Mae always loved holidays and she spared no time or expense making sure everyone else had a great Christmas.

Lee retired from Gulf Oil Company on June 14, 1983 and three years later Clara Mae retired from Exxon Oil and Refining Company. In 1988 they moved out of the house where they had lived since 1950 to the Woodlake Apartments in the Southwest side of Houston on Westheimer Street. They had a good life going to parties with their friends, visiting Kenneth and his family and shopping at the Galleria and downtown. Lee had had several bouts with various kinds of cancers and died at home on April 20, 1991.

After Lee’s death Clara Mae moved to the Spring Shadows Retirement Apartments off of Gessner Blvd. where she lived until moving to The Terrace at Memorial City.

She was asked if she wanted to move to Santa Fe, New Mexico where Ken and his wife Susan were living. She said she did, so she moved into the Kingston Residence of Santa Fe in June of 2000. She had developed C.O.P.D. (emphysema) while in Houston after Lee died and had to breathe pure oxygen all of the time that she lived at the 7,000 foot elevation of Santa Fe. As her health deteriorated she moved into El Castillo Retirement Residences downtown and finally to the Rosemont Assisted Living Facility.

While living in Santa Fe, Clara Mae always liked to go out for a good time and never complained about her condition.


Clara Mae died on December 19, 2003 and was cremated. Her remains were placed in a beautiful oriental urn for burial.  The urn was taken back to Houston where she was ceremoniously buried at the National Cemetery above Lee’s grave.

Clara Mae always said that she had a wonderful life and even when she was poor she was rich with the love from her family and friends. She was always a happy person and brought joy to all those who knew her!

Clara Mae’s Favorites:

Color – Green

Drink – Wild Turkey Bourbon & Coke; Grasshoppers
Candy – Chocolate
Terrain - Mountains w/snow
Animal – Butterflies
Singers – Bing Crosby, Tom Jones, Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, The Ink Spots
Activities – Shopping for clothes, parties of any kind, dancing, holidays and reading novels
Movie – “Gone With the Wind”