Visionary. Trailblazer. Innovator. Independent Thinker. Risk Taker. Fun Loving Family Man. Gentle Giant. And yes, Outspoken and Opinionated Individualist.
All these words very accurately describe who we’ve all lovingly known as “Big Nate.”
And while he was all of those things, he was also so, so much more.
He was a loving husband to his adoring wife. Also, a father who was committed to counseling his children and so many others in his care so they could understand the importance of thinking critically and independently.
Nathaniel Clay was born on February 27, 1944, in Cleveland, Ohio, as the handsome son of Carline Curtis and Lee Thurman Clay, named after his uncle Nathaniel Curtis.
Not surprisingly, he began his entrepreneurial path young at the age of 12 selling souvenirs, peanuts, and popcorn at the Cleveland Indians baseball games. It was then that he first identified opportunities for his lifelong career as a professional ticket broker. He even bought his first car at the age of 14, which he hid by parking it down the street and around the corner from his house for more than two years! He was on the basketball team and graduated from East Tech High School in 1961. After high school, he started his career as a jobs coach for intercity youth as part of the government’s anti-poverty program, demonstrating his commitment to helping the people of his community.
Nate was inspired by his Grandfather, Washington Curtis of Selma, Alabama, who owned his own farm and general store. It was in Selma during summer visits where Nate learned the value of hard work and the freedom of being his own boss. He also learned that when you do so, there are no days off; thus. he was always figuring out multiple ways to make a living.
As anyone who knew him quickly came to see, his creativity was always on display in everything he did. Not only was he one of our family’s first entrepreneurs, he started and ran several business enterprises, including a clothing store, an adult theater and a nightclub called the Psychedelic Shack — all located at the 105th and Euclid business district. Area in the 1960s was a major thoroughfare and was considered THE hub of Cleveland’s Black business and entertainment (not unlike Black Wall Street in Tulsa, OK). Think “Super Fly!”
While managing all these businesses, Nate continued to work and grow his ticket business.
True to form, he drafted an early proposal for a computerized “ticketing selling concept” to potential investors which was curiously similar to the early version of what we know today. However, the cold climate of Ohio became undesirable, and he decided a warmer climate would be better for his health. Nate traveled to Houston in 1981 for the World Series division playoffs and decided to stay. Always the visionary, he saw the economic boom and discovered a potential market for selling tickets. Nate opened Choice Tickets and Southwestern Leather Company next door to it. Soon after introducing his ticket reselling concept in Houston, he had many friendly competitor colleagues who also opened throughout the city. But make no mistake — “Big Nate” was, in fact, the first Black major events ticket broker in the United States.
In his work, Nate traveled extensively. He lived in Cleveland, New York, Houston and eventually settled in Fort Lauderdale, Florida where he established a combined ticket and travel business. He was crazy about his tickets. He was like a “ticket groupie.” Wherever a major band was performing, or a winning sports team played, Nate went. In fact, he landed in Ft. Lauderdale because he was following the Rolling Stones. He partnered with Harbor Beach Travel (founded in 1966), eventually purchasing the agency, and merging the two to become First Choice Tickets, Tours & Travel, Inc.
Again, Nate was a true pioneer. His was one of the first Black businesses to operate east of USI Federal Highway on the historic and prestigious yacht brokerage row of the 17th Street Causeway in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Not only did he introduce South Florida to the emerging ticket brokering game, but also, he mentored many of his original employees who then went on to establish some of the largest ticket brokerage agencies. Big Nate was a founding member of the National Ticket Brokers Association and the South Florida Ticket Brokers Association. In all of his ventures, he was successful because everyone always knew that his word was his bond.
Despite the fact that Nate was always on the go, he was a family man. He loved his family, his children, and his extended family. He spent a lot of time with his beloved Aunty Elvira Curtis Jones, who he affectionately named “Big Mama” since he was closely raised by his mother and her elder sister. He always attended The Curtis Family Reunions, which began in August 1970, in the backyard of Uncle Nathaniel/”Uncle Marshall” and Aunt Sarah Curtis and have been going strong every year except 2020 and 2021 because of the pandemic. He was a take-charge person when it came to bringing the family together. It was very important to him that the reunion was organized and well-done. In true form, Nate was the first person to move the family reunion from a backyard to a hotel, when he hosted the family reunion in Houston in 1986. Ever since then, the family has enjoyed being on the road traveling and experiencing different cities for the reunion. We all have “Big Nate” to thank for that.
Nate was also an avid golfer and enjoyed music, particularly jazz, classic Motown, and old school R&B. He enjoyed dancing, gambling at the casino, and going to the racetrack. He also loved attending major sporting events, concerts and especially traveling anywhere with his beautiful wife, Jackie. Nathaniel Clay lived his life with gusto, fiercely loved and enjoyed his children, and extended family; and always gave ultimate respect to his elders.
Nate was a loving husband, father, son, brother, cousin, and friend. Nate leaves to cherish his memory his beloved and caring wife Jacqueline (Jackie) of 23 years of Plantation, Florida.
He was preceded in death by both his parents Carline Curtis Tompkins and Lee Thurman Clay, brother Reginald Clay, and his former wife Vickie Thornhill Scales. Nate is survived by his four children, Kwanza Cherie Clay Bowe (Kenneth Sr.) of Exuma, Bahamas, Aygemang Nathan Clay of Lauderhill, Florida, Nacarra Clay Grisaffe (Michael) of Houston, Texas, and Cinnamon Anastasia Williams of Orlando Florida; grandchildren, K. Delano Bowe, Jr. Kinaya Bowe, Sadie Grisaffe, Autumn Grisaffe, Coltrane Clay and Era Clay; mother-in-law, Troylene Pace and father-in-law, Leo Pace; sisters-in-law, %alia Bryant (Melvin), Leona Redmon (Billy), Vicki Pace, and Kathy Pace; siblings Theresa Guy, Jean Braziel (Carl), and Leonard Clay (Joyce); bonus siblings Evelyn Herring, Quentine McCurdy, Roy Mixon, Sr. (Geraldine), Mary Curtis Ashong (Wellington), Larry Curtis Sr. (Jackie), George “Skissie” Mixon, Jr. (Marilyn), Marietta Bucher (Heinz), Johnny Williams (Hila), Saundra Patrick, James Miller (Lynette), Daryl Miller (Camille), Nathan Curtis, and Larry Curtis (Karen); bonus nephews and niece, Ayeh Ashong, Addo Ashong, and Malaya Pollard Ashong; and Ryanne Milligan as well as a host of other family members, friends and loved ones, all precious, but too countless to list.
While we will miss Nate’s larger than life personality, we learned so much from his example. His accomplishments and character have inspired us, taught us, and provided us a guiding light for how to live a full life. Thank you, thank you “Big Nate!” We will always love you and owe you a huge debt of gratitude.