David Ellsworth Clark
April 27, 2013
When I agreed to eulogize Dave Clark, I thought, "This is a serious matter." So I decided I should look up "eulogy" in the dictionary. According to Webster, it is a "speech or writing in praise of a person; also high praise or commendation." And I remember thinking to myself, "Now that is going to be easy!"
Most everyone is here because they knew Dave, but not many of you knew him as well as Stephen and Denise, or my Sara, or I. And certainly his wife Margy knew him best. So today I want to tell you some things about the man we honor here - Scholar, World Traveler, Mentor, and Sage - David Ellsworth Clark.
Dave was born in Paso Robles but lived in Templeton and later Ventura, where he finished his schooling up through junior college. His father was a high school principal and later superintendent of schools in Templeton and Ventura. His mother was the homemaker, and he had two older sisters. Dave's parents were devout Christians, held regular Bible study, always went to church, and never raised their voices to each other or the children. Dave's written account of his early years, however, opens with a typical Dave Clark witticism - quote: "Any reflection on my boyhood starts with my wise selection of parents."
Dave's greatest influences were undoubtedly his parents, especially his father. Dave's father had an incredible hunger for knowledge in the fields of history, geography, and natural sciences, and he imparted this yearning to Dave. In 1932, Dave’s father packed up their Hudson sedan and drove the whole family across the country to New England and back, stopping at every national park, scenic wonder, and historical place along the way. The car trips continued as Dave grew up, and this undoubtedly fueled his thirst for adventure and travel later in life.
Dave and his M7 tank crew in early 1945. Dave is standing second from the right in the back with his helmet askew.
Dave was in college when World War II broke out, so he did not enlist until September of 1942. He was sent through a variety of different programs and assignments before he landed in the newly formed 11th Armored Division as a sergeant. He was assigned to the 490th mechanized artillery regiment and was put in charge of an M7 105 mm Howitzer Motor Carriage armored vehicle (nicknamed the "Priest" by the English). He had a crew of seven to command as they shipped out for England to complete their training. In December of 1944, they made the crossing to France and joined General Patton’s Third Army. They saw their first action as the point of the spear which drove north into the German lines to relieve Bastogne and cut off the German army in the Battle of the Bulge. The 11th Armored later pushed south and east across Bavaria to encircle the Germans and meet up with the Russians in June of 1945 at the end of the war. Dave wrote an amazing account on his military exploits called, "One View of the Thunderbolt in Action". There's a copy in the next room on the table next to a model of an M-7 "Priest".
Dave was shipped home in December of 1945 and got home to his family in Ventura on New Year’s Eve. This meant that Dave was just in time to enroll at the University of Redlands for the spring semester of 1946. And that was where he met Margaret Sabolia. Their friends set them up on a blind date and that began a relationship of love and respect that lasted over 65 years.
Dave and Margy on their honeymoon, 1947.
Dave graduated from Redlands in 1947 and was accepted into the doctoral program in chemistry at Stanford University. Margy stayed behind to finish her teaching credential while Dave started at Stanford, but he returned to Redlands for their wedding during the Christmas break in December of 1947. Shortly thereafter, they were set up in their first campus cottage together in Palo Alto where Dave studied and worked as a teaching assistant while Margy taught school.
If you read Dave’s CV, it soon becomes clear how accomplished he was in his field. He received his doctorate in Organic Chemistry from Stanford in 1952 and went on to research fellowships at the University of Kansas and Oregon State University. He was later awarded year-long research projects at the University of Delaware and Brown University in Rhode Island, and received a National Science Foundation Faculty Fellowship at Harvard University. However, Dave’s home campus and his primary employer from 1953 on was the California State University, Fresno where he eventually became a full Professor of Chemistry, an Associate Vice President, and finally the Academic Vice President. So Fresno was their home town and that was where they raised their two children, Stephen and Sara. Dave retired from Fresno State in 1985.
Probably the most interesting factor in Dave and Margy's life together was their propensity for travel. Every summer when school was out and Steve and Sara were old enough, they were gone to someplace new. They explored all the western states and Hawaii and twice went coast to coast with the kids in tow. Once Sara was in college, Dave and Margy began to travel internationally, first to Europe several times, but then to South America and Africa. As a representative of Fresno State, Dave visited Communist China with Margy at his side. They later returned to China, Taiwan, and Japan for a longer tour. They have been on the Orient Express, in Egypt and the Holy Land, and crossed Asia on the Trans-Siberian railway.
Their love of nature and indigenous cultures found them on small ship tours of Alaska, the Galapagos and Easter Islands, the Falklands, and New Guinea. They counted seabird nests on Midway Island, watched Bactrian camels on the Gobi desert and cruised on small boats in the upper Amazon River. However, Dave always held a special love for the Arctic and Antarctica. Polar Bear expeditions along Hudson Bay and watching seals and penguins at Antarctic locations were what he always talked about the most. He said the sheer beauty of Antarctica took his breath away.
Okay fine – that was Dave’s history. But who WAS Dave?
The Clark Family c.1955.
Steve and I had a conversation about what Dave represented to him as a father. Steve said that Dave was his mentor. Given Dave's chosen profession, there was no doubt that Steve and Sara were going to college. But Dave instilled in him such a love of learning that he was inspired to go on for his Doctorate in Physical Chemistry right here in Davis. Sara continued on into Davis Law School and later took two masters degrees. Dave was always the catalyst for their thirst for knowledge.
Growing up with the Clarks was an immersion program of inquiry and discovery. Steve remembered that often in the evenings all four of them could be found reading in the living room. Dave always had two stacks of books around his easy chair, one that was science-related and the other for pleasure reading. He resisted buying their first television for a long time, realizing even then that it would erode his children’s learning time. And when they got older, the round table discussions at dinner would always require at least one of them to get up to find a reference book that proved his or her point. Dave made it fun to learn and that is the mark of a great mentor – one who challenges and inspires us to do better and finally excel.
Steve said that Dave carried a book of poems with him in the army, and later in life he could still quote from memory scores of poems. Dave was the only person he knew who had read the entire ten-volume "The Rise of Civilization" by Will and Ariel Durant and could easily quote the Classical, Renaissance, and Enlightenment philosophers. Dave and Margy became docents at the Fresno Zoo and when Dave took the Docent’s exam, he answered a question about evolution this way:
"With apologies to the Bard, to evolve or not to evolve, that is the question. Whether 'tis nobler in mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous mutation, or to take up arms against a sea of adaptations. And by opposing them, end them. To become extinct, that is the rub."
Steve thought of his father as one who had a very special knowledge of the world. His folksy brand of wisdom made him like a modern sage. He was a genuinely nice guy, good natured and gregarious, and quick to laugh, who made friends easily. And despite his great intellect, Dave never took himself too seriously. Whenever he talked about his exploits, he was always telling jokes on himself with an ever-present twinkle in his eyes. His behavior spoke louder than words to Steve and it imparted many life lessons that Steve took to heart. Dave taught him that it is easier to make one's way through life with a kind word or action and a joke rather than a threat. Steve still remembers the fatherly advice he imparted, like:
Stand up straight with your shoulders back.
Point your feet forward while walking.
And alway tease gently.
Dave in Cambria at Margy's 85th birthday celebration, 2009.
I asked Sara for her input on this subject and she said, "Do you know that over-used expression about being a gentleman and a scholar?" Well, actually that WAS her father – in spades. She said that Dave was the most thoughtful, honorable, loyal, and ethical man she had ever met. Throughout her life, she could not remember a time that she ever heard arguments between Dave and Margy, or even raised voices, and never profanity.
Sara said that, as a scholar, Dave was a life-long student. He was always studying something, whether it was scientific enrichment earlier in life, or literature and philosophy in his middle years, or animals in the later years. Going through Dave’s files recently, Sara found a journal that Dave had compiled several years ago. In it were clippings from scientific treatises outlining their view of the cosmos, excerpts of HIS father’s writings and hand-written notes summarizing books he had read on philosophy and religion. It was as though Dave was exploring the link between science and religion and trying to develop his own sense of Christian ethics to reconcile with his scientific point of view. Yet Dave was never one to take himself too seriously. So tucked in a corner of one page in the middle of this learned undertaking, in his script, was this poem which fittingly describes a moral dilemma:
There was a young lady from Kent,
Who said that she knew what it meant,
When men took her to dine,
Gave her cocktails and wine,
She knew what it meant, but she went!
Later in life, Dave's passion was animals of all varieties. But when Dave and Margy became docents at the Fresno Zoo, Dave wasn't satisfied just learning the basic notes given by the zoo for the docent program. Sara said he endeavored to become an expert on all animals, especially grass-eating animals that chew cud and have multiple stomachs, which tied in nicely with his organic chemistry background. Then, spicing his lectures with humor, he held his tour groups spell bound with his tales of the "ungulates" and "hind-gut fermenters".
Dave and Margy on Thanksgiving Day 2012, also Dave's 90th birthday, and one month prior to their 65th Anniversary.
Steve’s wife Denise and I also have many fond memories of Dave, though we did not have the privilege of knowing him for as long. One of our special connections with Dave was due to our service records – Denise in the Marines and I in the Army – we could talk about military matters on a personal level. But we also were in awe of his wisdom and his personality. Watching him deal with his family and other relationships has caused me to reflect several times on the way I do things. I have sincerely enjoyed knowing him.
You might think that Dave was a Fresno Bulldogs fan. Yeah, he went to the games, but he was a die-hard 49ers fan all his life. I’m sure Dave would like me to apologize to Reverend Tobin because, when the 49ers were playing, he tended to miss church. Dave always said that the 49ers needed his prayers more than God did. I don’t know about that, but I DO know that Dave was a very pious man who loved humanity. I can witness that he LIVED - ALL the commandments ALL the time. I would like to believe that God saw that in him and gave him a pass... and a few first downs... and maybe a touchdown or two. Hey Dave – "Go Niners!"
Dave took great delight in talking about all of the places he had been with Margy and the many wonderful things they had seen. Talking with Dave was a constant geography lesson with fantastic stories of adventure and exploration. But he never told these stories like he was bragging. It always felt like he was inspiring us to go look, discover and explore for ourselves. And we will. Once he told us that there was someone here at the URC who liked to talk about his extensive travels, but then Dave got that twinkle in his eye and quietly observed that he had been to a few more places. Perhaps that person is here today. If you are, I’m sorry to report that Dave just added one more to his list!
I understand that Dave used to give slide presentations of their travels to the residents here in this auditorium. Perhaps some of you saw those shows. I remember asking Dave a few times if he would please give us a slide presentation like the ones he did here. He would always smile and refuse. When I kept pressing him, he finally looked at me and said, with that ever-present twinkle, that he had done extensive research on the subject of crowd dynamics and that he had found through patient trial and error that you had to have at least 15 people in a darkened room to get the right cosmic aura, the critical mass, for people to begin to laugh at his silly jokes. Without that, they were just a bunch of boring slides.
Dave and Margy at Glacier Point, Yosemite National Park in 2011.
I know many of you had no contact with Dave during his last month, but I want to report that he continued to be sharp of mind, full of spirit, and kept his sense of humor right up to the end. When he wasn't in bed, he held court in his favorite chair in the living room. We would come in, and I would give him a humorous greeting and he would fire right back with a joking reply, and that old twinkle was always in his eyes. The staff also reported that he joked with them, even late at night when they were tending to him. This continued up until he fell asleep for the last time.
What grace! What courage! What unbelievable kindness this man possessed that he would choose to die smiling in order to spare his wife and children some of the pain they already were feeling. It is hard to know Dave’s real thoughts on religion, or heaven, or an afterlife, because he never really talked to us about that. What I prefer to believe is that Dave knew something that some of us haven't quite figured out yet. He seemed to be looking forward, as though to a new adventure, a new challenge, and regretting only that he wouldn't be able to come back and give a slide presentation on it. Understandably, he gave us all something new to think about.
But isn’t this the genius of a true, remarkable educator? He was a scholar who made it his life-long quest to learn all he could about the world and its possessions. He was an explorer, who travelled the world and brought back fantastic stories to fill our dreams. He was a mentor who taught us how to develop the knowledge to know which road to take in life. And he was a sage, who showed us how to live a great life by his own example.
And this is the man we honor today – David Ellsworth Clark.