On Sept. 15, 2008, the flag flew at half-mast over Johnson Chapel. Passing students must have wondered, “Who died?” They would do well to find out. Indeed, they would do well to model themselves after the graduate to whom the College gave that rare and significant honor.
It was Steve Clark.
A quiet man with a booming voice, Steve enjoyed all aspects of student life at Amherst. And as an alumnus, loyal and true, his accomplishments and generosity enriched the heritage of the College.
Scholar, musician and athlete are among the many different ways in which Steve would be described by classmates—depending on how you knew him—and he was accomplished in each area. That Steve did so many things, and did each so well, is remarkable. Those of us who toiled mightily with Steve to accomplish just one thing often were surprised to learn that he was energetically involved in several other pursuits at the same time. Steve’s diverse accomplishments were fueled by a wonderful combination of talents, intellectual curiosity and boundless enthusiasm.
Amherst’s primary mission is scholarship. In that, Steve excelled. His devotion to scholarship lead him to graduate with honors, and then to receive a masters degree in fine arts and a doctorate in musicology from Princeton Univ. Steve became a leading authority on the life and music of C.P.E Bach—the most famous of Johann Sebastian Bach’s many children—about whom Steve authored and edited two books. In his career as a scholar, Steve also taught at Wabash College and Skidmore College.
Steve’s love for music was not confined to the classroom, and it found expression in more than books and lectures. He could sing! An avid member of the glee club, Steve’s voice often could be heard above the others—particularly when “Lord Jeffery Amherst” and “Paige’s Horse” were sung.
Scholarship and music, of course, were not Steve’s only passions. He could row! During Steve’s years in the Varsity Eight, Amherst was undefeated in dual races, as well as the Little Three and New England Champions in 1975. Steve’s passion for rowing continued after graduation, and he rowed regularly throughout his life.
And he was as true a friend as one would ever want. He was genuinely interested in you and your activities. He was sympathetic if you were down and buoyantly happy if you were up. You did not merely befriend Steve—you loved him like a brother.
Serendipitously, Steve’s career path veered from academia to fundraising and alumni relations—first at Amherst, then at Skidmore, and finally at Yale Univ. In this calling, Steve also found great success and satisfaction. His heartfelt enthusiasm for these schools was contagious, and he inspired donors and colleagues alike.
In early 2007, however, Steve’s life took yet another turn, and he began a long struggle with bile duct cancer. His final illness was kept largely private—a feat easily accomplished as he remained active and vigorous until his death on Sept. 11, 2008. Throughout that struggle, Steve’s strength was sustained by his loving relationship with his wife, Karen Drumm; his parents, Everett ’44 and Clare Clark; and his sister, Mary Ellen Judges, and her family—all of whom survive him.
After his death, Steve’s family organized a gathering to celebrate his life, not to mourn his passing. On that day, the joy of memory easily eclipsed the sadness of loss.
And we, his friends and fellows, should celebrate his life, too.
Steve embraced the gift that Amherst offers to each of us—self-fulfillment. Even as his time slipped away, Steve realized that his life had been complete, and he was content. Thus, the students gazing up at Johnson Chapel that day would do well to pursue their passions as Steve did—with all their talents, energy and enthusiasm—and follow that true path to a complete life.
Steve’s life, then, has been a lantern, which sent its gleam across the snow; we now must keep it burning, that all may see the way to go.
—Craig C. Reilly ’76