Astronaut who married Darlington native dies at 69

Michael “Rich” Clifford and his wife, the former Nancy Elizabeth Brunson of Darlington, visiting the Parkinson’s Foundation office in Florida. PHOTO COURTESY PARKINSON’S FOUNDATION

By Bobby Bryant, Editor

NASA astronaut Michael “Rich” Clifford may have been best known for the time he spent orbiting above the Earth’s spinning billions, but he was at heart a people person, says his wife, the former Nancy Elizabeth Brunson of Darlington. “He was very humble,” she says. “He made everybody feel special. He could talk to anyone. He was a people person for sure.” Clifford, 69, who flew on three space-shuttle missions in the 1990s, died of complications from Parkinson’s Disease on Dec. 28. The Cliffords had been married since 1976; for the past decade or so, they had been living in North Myrtle Beach with frequent trips to Cary, N.C. Nancy Clifford, daughter of the late R. Ben and Mary Lee Brunson of Darlington, was a 1970 graduate of St. John’s High School and a 1974 graduate of Limestone College. She taught school at the now-closed Darlington Academy for about a year. Nancy Clifford, 69, says that she still has a few cousins living in Darlington County and that she treasures growing up in Darlington. “We were very fortunate to have a small-town atmosphere.” Michael Clifford – everyone called him “Rich” – was a West Point graduate who grew up in Utah. In 1990 he was chosen for NASA’s 13th group of shuttle trainees. In 1992, he flew aboard the shuttle Discovery. He was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 1994, but continued to fly, reportedly telling no one about his illness but NASA doctors. “They asked me what I wanted to do, and my response was quick: I wanted to remain on flight status and remain in the queue for a future space flight. I wanted to remain an astronaut,” Clifford said. (Later, he would open up about his illness and speak at conferences on Parkinson’s.) Clifford, a mission specialist aboard the shuttle, did a six-hour spacewalk on his third and final shuttle mission in 1996. In all, he logged more than 600 hours in space. At home, he “set work aside,” Nancy Clifford says. “He wasn’t a selfish person. We worked together. It was a mission for everybody.” “He was just an outstanding individual,” she says. She says her husband will be buried at Arlington National Cemetery within a few months.

Author: Stephan Drew

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