Patrice Francise Clarke was born on September 11, 1961, in Nassau, Bahamas. She first became interested in aviation when she participated in career week activities at her high school in Nassau, Bahamas, and at that time it was an interest in becoming a stewardess. However, that soon changed, and her interest soon turned to becoming a pilot. Clarke attended Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Florida and graduated in April, 1982, with a commercial pilot’s certificate and a Bachelor’s of Science in aeronautical science, and was the first black woman to graduate from the university.
Clarke’s career involved working for a few different airlines, starting as a pilot for a charter company, Trans Island Airways, in the Bahamas, from 1982-1984. She then flew as a first officer with Bahamasair from 1984-1988 before she was hired as a flight engineer for United Parcel Service in May 1988. While working as a first officer for UPS she was promoted to captain in November, 1994, becoming the first black female pilot with a commercial airline. Also, in 1994, she married Ray Washington, a captain for American Airlines.