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Our classmate, Dick Clark, died peacefully at home on August 11, 2009. His memorial service was a few days later and this “In Memoriam” is based largely on remembrances presented at the service by friends and family as well as some memories of my own.
Just a year ago, Dick and I, along with our wives, Casey and Judy, spent the 2008 Labor Day weekend at the New Hampshire cottage of Anne and Lew Knight (AC 57) kayaking around White Oak Pond and helping to put boats away for the winter. After lugging a rather large canoe to its winter home, Dick and I caught our breath. “How are you feeling? I asked, posing the question we all raise with each other these days. He answered, “Pretty good—just a bit tired from time to time. Sometimes I even take a nap.” We laughed and then repaired to the Knight cottage for cocktails, rare steak (one of Dick’s favorites), and a round of singing around the table after dinner, ending with a harmonious rendition of Lord Jeffery Amherst. About a month later, Dick called to say he’d been diagnosed with lung cancer.
An American Studies major, Dick flirted with the idea of joining the Navy as an officer candidate upon graduation but, at the urging of a relative on the Harvard faculty, he decided to enroll in a Master’s program at the Harvard School of Education and thus began a long and distinguished career in education. After Harvard, Dick worked from 1961-63 as an elementary teacher in Concord and Lexington MA and then was hired as Principal of the Earle Johnson Elementary School in Golden, Colorado, where he served for three years. He was one of the youngest principals ever hired in the state.
In 1966, he enrolled in a doctoral program at Stanford University and received his Ed.D. in 1969. He then joined the faculty at UMASS Amherst School of Education and served in a number of positions there until his retirement in 1997. In 1997, he was appointed Dean of the Graduate School of Education at UMASS Boston before he really retired in 2000.
Dick spent the bulk of his professional life in Teacher Education and was instrumental in the creation and implementation of an award-winning Masters-level teacher education program (MESTEP), a collaboration with Boston area urban and suburban schools. He also chaired the Massachusetts Advisory Commission on Educational Personnel. Throughout his career, he was highly respected by colleagues for his ability to get things done without being heavy-handed. In classmate Bob Woodbury’s words, Dick was “a leader who had an uncanny ability to get folks to work together even under the most trying or challenges or circumstances.”
Dick was committed to his professional work, but he had a number of other passions: cars and how to drive, NASCAR, boats, tennis, golf, singing, and painting with water colors. Bob Woodbury says “Dick could tell you the brand, horsepower, model and history of almost any car or boat in sight.” And Dick often looked down his nose (albeit in a friendly way) at his friends who bought cars that did not meet his standards for a “drivers” car. (This certainly applied to my Toyota minivan.) And we all knew better than to phone Dick when the Indy 500 or an important NASCAR race was on.
Dick was very proud of his driving ability and his ability to get places in record time. He would boast to Bob and Anne Woodbury of setting a new time record on his drive to see them in Maine. But he was always careful and alert. He was also fussy about what passengers could do in the car when he was at the wheel. His son, Ted, told a story of an icy night when they were driving to an event near their home in Amherst. Dick, as ever, was at the wheel. Ted turned on the radio and he said his father looked at him in disbelief. “Ted, if you turn on the radio, I won’t be able to hear the tires on the road.” Ted turned off the radio. Moments later, Dick encountered a nasty pile-up of cars below on an icy hill in Pelham but steered and braked deftly around the potential accident. Ted said, “I looked at my father in amazement. He looked at me, just grinned, and we continued on.”
Dick came to Amherst from Belmont Hill School along with his good friend, Bob Woodbury. They roomed together freshman year in Morrow and
Bob says he helped Dick get through Arnie Arons’ physics course while Dick tutored Bob in French. Dick and Bob remained fast friends for 55 years and their wives, Casey and Anne, also became best of friends. Ironically, Bob was stricken with another form of cancer just a few months after Dick’s diagnosis and was unable to attend Dick’s August service due to an infection which hospitalized him. Bob’s wife, Annie, filled in for Bob and took us down memory lane. Annie told of a trip Dick and Bob took across country the summer of 1956 after they graduated from Belmont Hill, driving in a ‘49 Oldsmobile and reading John Steinbeck as they made their way West on Rt. 66 to work in a cannery in California. Over the years, the Clark and Woodbury families often vacationed together. Annie recounted several ventures including a trip to Quebec City (where they were snowbound for several days) and a number of sailing charters where Dick usually was “the captain.” According to Annie, Dick made an important distinction between a “trip” which meant old churches and guided tours vs. “vacations” which involved beaches, boats and perhaps tennis. Dick preferred the latter.
Annie also told us a story which reflected Dick and Bob’s close relationship.
In February 2009, shortly after Bob learned he was battling a rare form of lymphoma, Dick and Bob began scheduling regular phone calls which soon became daily calls at 5:00 each afternoon. “There was no agenda,” Bob said. “Maybe longtime friends just don’t have agendas.” During one conversation, Bob asked Dick what he was proudest of in his career. Bob thought Dick might refer to deanships or programs or the like. Instead, he answered, “that I did not knowingly hurt anyone.” At the memorial service, Annie asked, “Have you ever heard Dick say anything negative about anyone. He valued everyone.”
At the service, it was clear how important family was to Dick. His three sisters, two brothers-in-law, two sisters-in-law, grandchildren, nieces and nephews, and others filled the left front of the church. Ted spoke for the family and commented on what he admired about his father:
First, his grace under pressure -- a trait he showed in spades during his entire life and especially during his yearlong battle with lung cancer. I never once heard him say, "why me?" He refused to become bitter or angry. Instead, he remained the same as before. Caring, funny, generous and loving.
Second, he was modest to a fault -- I never once heard him boast about any significant achievements to anyone. When boasting was called for, he deflected it and complimented his family, a friend or a colleague.
Third, he was always the optimist. We would be ok. It was this last quality, dad's optimism, that I believe was one of his guiding life philosophies.
From my own experiences with Dick over the years, Ted was right on the mark. The Miller and Clark families spent a lot of time together so our kids knew Dick well. Even now, when they encounter a rough patch, we often say to them, “Remember what Dick would probably say—that out of every crisis comes an opportunity.”
Dick and Casey were married almost 50 years. In Ted’s words, “They were devoted to each other. Dad loved Casey more than anything else in the world. They were inseparable and had the kind of relationship that deepens over time. My mother was his confidante and his soul mate. They were a perfect match and served as a model for the rest of us.”
Dick also had a special relationship with his three children—Ted, Karen and Steve. UMass colleague Irv Seidman visited Dick often during the final weeks and made this observation:
“Watching Ted, Karen, and Steve, whom Dick often referred to as his best friends, play the reversed role of caregiver to their Dad, seeing them do it with gentleness and warmth, concern and humor, competence and a light touch, always considering the dignity and pride of their father, I saw them returning what he had offered them in their lives. And I understood the biblical saying that we reap what we sow.”
In his last week or two, Dick worked with the family planning his Memorial Service and referred to it as his “party”. At the memorial service, Ted Clark quipped, “Dad was so involved in planning this service that sometimes it felt like he was set on attending himself.” And the service certainly bore Dick’s stamp: a positive, upbeat, celebration of a well-lived life shared with the over 250 people who attended.
Ted ended his remarks with a poem from an anonymous author that he said his dad would have liked:
You can shed tears that he is gone or you can smile because he has lived.
You can close your eyes and pray that he'll come back
or you can open your eyes and see all he's left.
Your heart can be empty because you can't see him
or you can be full of the love you shared.
You can turn your back on tomorrow and live yesterday
or you can be happy for tomorrow because of yesterday.
You can remember him and only that he's gone
or you can cherish his memory and let it live on.
You can cry and close your mind, be empty and turn your back
or you can do what he'd want: smile, open your eyes, love and go on.
To be truthful, Judy and I have shed more than a few tears but we still cherish Dick’s memory.
- Roland Miller (in collaboration with Casey Clark and Mal Greenaway)