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Clark: Bittersweet goodbye to a man of and for the people

SUNDAY, OCT. 10, 2010

I felt a tug of sadness Friday when I heard the news.

John Clark lost his two-year battle with cancer. He was 58.

It’s customary to say nice things when a friend exits the Earth.

But in this case every word of praise is deserved.

John Clark was a class act. The local defense lawyer was well-known for his stellar ethics and his desire to always help an underdog.

I never knew a more honest, decent guy.

I met Clark (no relation that I know of) more than 20 years ago. He tipped me off about some sort of gambling scam that was going on in the then-unincorporated Spokane Valley.

I can barely recall what the hubbub was about.

What I do remember is the genuine concern Clark had for the victims and that everything the man told me checked out as dead-bang true.

Journalists get lied to often. It’s a rare and fresh breeze when you find someone whose word you can take to the bank.

Over the years I worked with Clark on a dozen or so stories.

I always enjoyed the trips to his Valley law firm, where we spent more time talking cars and music and laughing about the foibles of local government.

That warm sense of humor is one of the things I’ll miss most about the man.

Thinking about it takes me back to a February night in 1998 when Clark was competing in a car-rolling contest at a monster truck show.

I had never set foot in a monster truck show. But when I heard what the attorney was doing, I rushed down to the Spokane Arena and met him as Clark prepared for takeoff.

Now, I knew all about Clark’s love of motorsports. He was no stranger to racing and good enough to set the 1988 record for super stocks at Stateline.

But car-rolling?

That just seemed plain crazy.

Attired in a jumpsuit, Clark was about to strap himself into a battered old Datsun that had been painted red and fitted with flashing lights to resemble an ambulance.

The idea was to get the car up to 40 miles an hour and then drive only the left wheels up a steel ramp.

The scariest part, Clark explained, was when you reached the top of the ramp. That’s when you had to crank the wheel hard and send the car flipping out onto the dirt-covered Arena to the amazement of, well, people who would pay to attend a monster truck show.

The driver rolling the most would take home a trophy and 250 bucks. Except that Clark had already promised to give his winnings to the Datsun’s owner.

When I pointed out that he was essentially putting his law practice in jeopardy for no reward, Clark just chuckled, and a little-kid grin washed over his face.

“Hey,” he told me as if I was the insane one, “where else can you flip a car in front of thousands of people?

“How can you beat that?”

Point taken, counselor.

Last March I saw my friend for the last time. I went out to his Valley law firm to interview Clark about his opposition to Spokane’s red-light camera program.

Clark was as upbeat as ever as he told me about his cancer and his determination to keep working. We walked outside where he gave his blessing on the old Jaguar I had bought.

I brought up the memory of that wacky stunt he pulled a dozen years ago at the Arena.

Clark claimed to still be sore that his “roll and three-quarters” was only good enough to win the $150 second prize.

Even worse, he had been out-rolled by a girl. Or, in this case, a zany Canadian woman who billed herself as “The Wild Thing.”

“That still smarts,” Clark quipped with a laugh.

It’s OK to be runner-up in car-rolling, John. As a human being you were first-place all the way.

Doug Clark is a columnist for The Spokesman-Review. He can be reached at (509) 459-5432 or dougc@spokesman.com.


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