Don Clarke remembered for his zest for life

Dave Kearsey
Published on December 19, 2012
Don Clarke is shown in this undated photo.
— Submitted photo

CORNER BROOK  Don Clarke will be remembered as a thoughtful person who lived life to his fullest.

Mr. Clarke, a Corner Brook resident who was born in Donkin, N.S., died Dec. 11 of pancreatitis at Western Memorial Regional Hospital. Mr. Clarke, married and father of three children, was 79.

Hockey was a big part of Mr. Clarke’s life and he will go down in history as one of the steadiest defenceman to play in provincial senior hockey circles. He won six Herders with Grand Falls-Windsor before winning another provincial senior hockey crown with the Corner Brook Royals two years after joining the team.

“He got his money’s worth,” Scott Clarke, Don’s oldest son and a former sports writer at The Western Star, said Tuesday from the family home in Corner Brook. “He lived enough for two people, you know what I mean? He loved life and he had all kinds of interests he was passionate about and if he liked something he threw himself into it.”

Many hockey followers in the 1960s believed Mr. Clarke would have had a good shot at professional hockey if there were more teams at that time. He played at the prestigious Notre Dame College when he was a budding hockey player growing up and found success at the Atlantic Sport University (AUS) level with an MVP award as a member of the St. Francis Xavier varsity team. He also had a cup of coffee in a number of United States hockey towns during his heyday.

Doug  Sheppard was a teammate of Mr. Clarke with the Royals and the two became close friends with interaction between their families a constant in their life since Mr. Clarke joined the team in the later stages of an impressive hockey resume.

“He was a steady defenceman and a good teammate,” Sheppard said Tuesday of his loss.

While he believes Mr. Clarke was a great hockey player with a resume to prove it, he also became aware of a talent that really impressed him. Doug and his wife Betty spent a lot of time with Mr. Clarke and his wife Lorraine, and their relationship included hitting the dance floor at their favourite spot.

It appears the Clarkes stole the show.

“Don Clarke was definitely the best dancer,” he said with a light chuckle. “Don and Lorraine were great on the dance floor.”

But, there was more to the humble man than skill with a hockey stick.

He also made a positive impact on a number of charitable organizations, including the Salmon Preservation Association of the Waters of Newfoundland.

A conservationist at heart, Mr. Clarke served as president of SPAWN where he was rewarded for his commitment with the SPAWNER Hall of Fame Award. He was known as an avid angler who loved to spin a yarn on the river banks and had no problem passing on some of his fishing expertise to those willing to listen.

More importantly, he also shaped the lives of some of our leaders in the community today.

As principal of Templeton Academy (formerly Templeton Collegiate), Mr. Clarke was a coach and mentor to many aspiring students and held a commanding officer position with the school-based army cadet corps for 14 years. He was known for his care towards the students who attended school under his watchful eye and he has been praised by many of them over the years for guiding them down the right path in life.

Some people may also know Mr. Clarke as the friendly face selling Christmas trees around the city the last couple of years. His participation in the festive season through the sale of trees was a fulfillment of a lifetime dream when he developed a Christmas tree hobby farm in Gillams.

Rev. Baxter Park provided the eulogy at Mr. Clarke’s funeral service and talked about the positive influence the principal had on him when he was a student at the school. He talked about how Mr. Clarke treated all students the same and went beyond the call of duty to ensure the students could avail of any opportunities presented to them in school.

He recalls having people question his decision to follow God’s path and serve him as an Anglican priest, but Mr. Clarke wasn’t among them, instead choosing to encourage him to do what he felt was right for him.

“Don just encouraged,” Rev. Park said in his eulogy. “And I believe Don encouraged because he understood that with the right leadership and a non-traditional approach, the church still had the potential to influence the world for good.”

According to the reverend, the students really did appreciate his involvement in their lives. Even those students, who like the reverend at times, found themselves trying to strike a balance between both their respect and fear of a principal who picked up a scattered student who had mooched off from school and brought them back to the classroom where he knew they had to be if they wanted to get an education.

“Don believed in us before we had the sense to believe in ourselves,” his former student said.