Memorial services will be held Wednesday in San Luis Obispo County for Justice William P. Clark, Jr., retired California Supreme Court Associate Justice and influential adviser to President Ronald Reagan. Justice Clark died Saturday after a long battle with Parkinson’s disease. He was 81 years old.
Justice Clark served on the California Supreme Court from 1973 to 1981, leaving the court to serve in President Reagan’s administration. His judicial career began in 1969, when then-Governor Ronald Reagan appointed him to the superior court in San Luis Obispo County. In Washington, D.C., he was affectionately known as “The Judge” based on his tenure on the California Supreme Court. Justice Clark served President Reagan as Deputy Secretary of State and later as National Security Advisor and Secretary of the Interior. He returned to California and private practice in 1985.
“We mark with sadness the passing of William P. Clark, a highly respected member of the California Supreme Court,” said Chief Justice Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye. “Justice Clark left the bench to serve with distinction in his various roles in the White House during the Reagan administration. I extend my heartfelt condolences to his many surviving family members.”
“Judge Clark possessed that rare combination of being both a good man and a great man,” said John Murphy, a staff attorney for California Supreme Court Associate Justice Joyce L. Kennard. Murphy worked with Justice Clark both at California Supreme Court and in the Reagan administration. “As a judge and leader, he combined his wealth of common sense with his excellent judgment to safeguard individual rights and to strengthen and uphold the principle of government by law. His genuine concern for others at all levels of society and all walks of life informed every decision he made. Judge Clark was a decent, caring, and loyal leader of the highest order. He was both kind and strong. His contributions to the cause of freedom, our state, country and the world have enriched all of our lives.”
Dan McGovern, who worked with Justice Clark as a staff attorney on the California Supreme Court and later in various roles in Washington, said, “What Judge Clark had was good judgment. He cut directly to the heart of a problem and insisted on finding a solution that made common sense in real life as he understood it. His inherent good judgment enabled him to serve the nation with distinction in remarkably diverse fields. I watched him move from the bench to the State Department, from National Security Adviser to the President to Secretary of Interior. He never broke stride. As a person, he was much like Jimmy Stewart’s screen image. Gentle but strong. Thoughtful but laconic. Courtly yet shy. He was one of the nicest persons I ever knew, much less worked for.”
Justice Clark was born in Oxnard, attended Villanova Preparatory School in Ojai, Stanford University and Loyola Law School, and served in the U.S. Army Counter Intelligence Corps. He managed Ronald Reagan’s 1966 gubernatorial campaign in Ventura County, then joined the Governor in Sacramento, serving as de facto chief of staff before being appointed to the California bench.
Clark’s wife of 50 years, Joan, died four years ago. He is survived by his five children, two sisters; nine grandchildren; and a great-grandson. Services will be held at Chapel Hill, a non-denominational chapel that Justice Clark built on his family ranch at Shandon, San Luis Obispo County and donated to the public.