Richard Clark, remembered

Published on Wed, Jun 13, 2012 by Jack Kintner

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Richard Clark is honored as the parade marshal in the Blaine 4th of July parade last year. Photo by Ruth Lauman.

Richard E. Clark, writer of definitive histories of Point Roberts and of the Peace Arch and a man who could truly be called the conscience of Blaine, died May 26 at the age of 82.

During the depression his parents, and older brother and sister moved from Iowa to Wenatchee, where Clark was born in 1930. He moved with his family to a Valley View Road farm in 1932 that his father soon traded for the house Clark lived in for many years at 223 B Street.

“His involvement and participation was unbelievably wide-ranging,” said Gordon Dolman, former superintendent of the Blaine school district. “He started the Pacific Arts Association, bringing classical musicians from all over the northwest to perform, often at his own expense, at concerts that were free or by donation.”

In 2005 Clark published his 500-page “Sam Hill’s Peace Arch” and dedicated it to Dolman, whom Clark said, “had the rare and critical knack of keeping me motivated. I have often called him ‘my psychiatrist.’”

A study in contrasts, Clark’s persistent and sometimes abrasive advocacy of peace-oriented causes was matched with a contagious and pleasing humility that made a wide variety of people feel welcomed and honored to be a part of his long, complex and influential life.

He met regularly with locals who  themselves may have felt like adversaries. City manager Gary Tomsic told of how Clark persistently sought to get Blaine to pay more official attention to peace issues.

“He was a very important member of our community in drawing our attention to things that might otherwise be overlooked,” Tomsic said.

Clark, along with Blaine resident Bob Drake, also met every Sunday morning for many years with feisty former Blaine councilman and local gadfly David White.

Though rumored to be at least an agnostic if not an outright unbeliever, Clark was deeply religious throughout his life, something that generated his personal commitment to both issues and people.

His knack for bridging gaps between people made him a natural for the priesthood, a vocation to which he willingly devoted his life. But his iconoclastic disdain for the frumpery and posturing of church officialdom in the two denominations he served – Baptist and Anglican – cut that career short at just nine years, culminating in an absurd heresy trial.

Despite that, the convictions that led him into the priesthood never left him. Five years ago, in the forward to his last book, “Riding the Carousel with God,” he wrote about using the image of a carousel as a metaphor for life spent “circumnavigating the light of reality, as we understand it, in the passing prisms of our lives [with their] ups and downs. God ... rides my carousel. One never rides alone, you know. But God hasn’t tamed me yet. I’m a feral theologian.”

A close friend, Eleanor Stebner, J.S Woodsworth Chair in the Humanities and Associate Director for Graduate Liberal Studies at Simon Fraser University, expressed the deep affection so many held for Clark. “I just loved it when I would write him an email and he would respond by saying ‘you’ve turned me into a happy old man this morning.’”

“We exchanged lots of ideas related to the humanities in general and theology and sociology in particular. He boiled his creed down to two words: Be kind. But he was more than kind as you probably know – he was a great teacher, a passionate lover of music and beauty, of ideas.”

Stebner was the keynoter for the 2006 International Day of Peace. At the time Clark said, “So often the study of international peace as an alternative to war gets framed in a politically biased way, as if it’s code language for a left-wing political agenda. We’re trying to get beyond that.”

An accomplished pianist, Clark was also an organized and productive scholar and teacher. He worked for 10 years beginning in 1984 as a reporter for the Ferndale Record-Journal, serving one year as editor. In 2004 the newspaper honored him with the Thomas L. George Lifetime Achievement Award.

Clark earned national certification as a music teacher through his affiliation with the Washington State Music Teacher’s Association (WSMTA ) in 1990. Nine years later he was the first winner of the Bob Robbins Performing and Fine Arts Award, and in 2004 was named to the WSMTA hall of fame.

Local pianist and fellow teacher Patricia Jorgensen, who first met Clark as a fellow student at Western Washington University (WWU) in the early ’60s, told of his discovering the lost compositions of Alsatian composer and piano virtuoso Joseph Schiffmacher, a gifted student of Frederick Chopin whose works had been lost for over a century. “Richard was unique, an inquisitive role model for so many. He saw and encouraged a potential in me to perform in front of people. His persistent foraging for something new and undiscovered led to his finding Schiffmacher’s work and getting it recorded onto a CD by his friend Dan Sabo.”

“[Schiffmacher’s] descendant, living in Surrey, B.C., informed me of the long-lost composer while I was giving his children piano lessons,” Clark accounted in the liner notes, which led to discovering more than 300 pages of piano works in the composer’s native Germany.

Christina Alexander, founder of the United States Canada Peace Arch Association, spoke of her last visit with Clark. “He was as complex as the classical music he loved, a creative independent thinker and way ahead of his time. I visited him a few weeks ago, held his hand and I thanked him for his hard work and diligence [in] helping to protect and preserve the Peace Arch and the park. It obviously inspired me, and future generations for decades to come will benefit from his efforts.”

John Choulochas, a friend and fellow promoter of the Peace Arch, said he was “like family. He’d greet me like an old friend but then, like a member of your own family, sometimes show a dark side. But he offered the kind of friendship that could contain sometimes sharp disagreements and still be there for you.”

In his history of the Peace Arch Clark said in the foreward that he wrote it in part to uproot several monumental myths, among them that the international boundary is in the wrong place.

Based on astronomical data in use at the time, the border was as accurately located in the 1800s as it could be today, according to Denny DeMeyer of Northwest Surveying in Lynden.

 GPS receivers use different references these days, one of which has the 49th parallel running right through Clark’s house on B street, he said.

“I have a world of respect for Mr. Clark,” DeMeyer said. “His local knowledge was very helpful when the Land Surveyors Association of Washington Historical Society, together with the Corporation of British Columbia Land Surveyors re-established original boundary monument No. 5 in 1986 to commemorate the 125th anniversary of the completion of the original International Boundary Survey. I remain one of his biggest fans.”

Clark held a B.A. in music and an M.A. in sociology from WWU, a master of divinity degree (M.Div.) in homiletics from the American Baptist Seminary of the West, and an M.A. in the humanities from California State University. He is a former adjunct professor of sociology and religion with Chapman University. He willed his estate to support the music program at WWU.