Clement “Clem” Silva, formerly of Provincetown, died at his Yarmouth home of kidney failure on Aug. 27, 2021. His death was confirmed by his sister and business partner Debra, with whom he had run Clem & Ursi’s Restaurant.
Clem had been sick for many years with liver and kidney disease as a result of AIDS. He required dialysis, which became increasingly painful. He decided, Debra said, to orchestrate his death by having a living wake — a choice with which he was totally at peace. He entertained a daily stream of visitors in his last week, and although he could not himself eat, he asked his sister to cook his favorite dishes for his guests. He savored the smells, said Debra.
The son of Clement S. and Ursula M. Silva, Clem was born in Wareham on July 27, 1951 and grew up on Commercial Street in Provincetown. His father was a fisherman, and his parents ran the Lower Cape Ambulance Service. Debra recalls that, for Clem and his sisters, “It was an amazing childhood in such a good community.”
Cooking was deeply embedded in his sense of family. After graduating from Provincetown High School in 1969, Clem studied at Bryant College for a couple of years before returning to Provincetown to open his first restaurant, The Sea Fox. He had been introduced to cooking by his grandfather, who, after a day out oystering, taught six-year-old Clem how to make oyster stew. Soon after, his grandmother taught him how to fry Portuguese Christmas treats.
In 1981, Clem decided to try city life, so he moved to New York to work for a printing business, William Allen & Co. During his years in New York, he went to night school to finish an accounting degree. “If he set his mind to something, he just did it,” Debra said.
When Clem was diagnosed with AIDS in 1991, he came home to Provincetown.
With Debra, he first opened Clem and Joe’s Restaurant, a chicken and rib place, in 1993. A year later, the siblings and their sister, Susan, bought a clam shack called Dairyland on Shank Painter Road, in the location that is now Mac’s Fish House. In 1995, they named the restaurant Clem and Ursie’s after their parents. It became a full family enterprise, with Susan in charge of catering, Debra in charge of the fish market, and Clem cooking and balancing the books.
As the business expanded to include lobster tanks, a raw bar, and a fish market, Clem assembled a Jamaican staff and built housing for them on an adjacent lot. “Clem and Ursie’s was quite the place in the 1990s,” said Debra — “some of the best years of his life.”
Clem and Ursie’s is remembered also for its art. Clem bought wooden tables and asked artists like Al Jaffee, Paul Bowen, and Howie Schneider to paint the tops as a way to give texture and character to the restaurant. He supported local arts organizations and had, Debra said, “more art than he had wall space.”
Clem often received requests from patrons for the restaurant’s corn bread, the only thing he did not make from scratch. He avoided giving out the recipe until he was on his death bed, when he declared that to make first-rate corn bread, “Just add water!”
Clem was predeceased by his parents, his brother Gary Silva, and his most trusted companion, his Boston terrier “Fatty.”
He is survived by his two sisters, Susan Medina and husband Kedeen Morgan of Medfield and Debra Stewart and husband Garth of North Truro, and by many nieces, nephews, and extended family. He is also survived by his beloved granddaughter, Emily Malcolm of Lithuania, and many friends.
A celebration of life will be held on Oct. 5, 2021 from 1 to 3 p.m. at St. Mary of the Harbor Church at 517 Commercial St., Provincetown.
Donations in Clem’s memory can be made to the AIDS Support Group of Cape Cod, asgcc.org.