John Clark, 92, delegate and land preservationist

January 06, 2003|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

John E. Clark, a former member of the House of Delegates who later served as the chief judge of the People's Court in Harford County and was active in land stewardship, died Friday of heart failure at Calvert Manor Healthcare Center in Rising Sun. He was 92.

A practicing lawyer in Bel Air for nearly five decades, he blended careers in public service and politics with private legal work and a love of the land.

"He always had an interest in politics and civic responsibility," said his wife, Sharon Clark. "Stewardship of the land was very near and dear to his heart. That love of the land and wishing to preserve it was something that he carried with him until he died."

He was the chairman of the Tidewater Fisheries Commission and the Board of Natural Resources, a founding member of the Maryland Historical Trust, a leader of the Keep Maryland Beautiful campaign, the founding chairman of the Maryland Environmental Trust, and executive secretary of the Maryland State Fair Board.

A Democrat, he served for 12 years in the House of Delegates, where he earned a reputation as a conservationist.

While practicing law in Harford County, he was a trial magistrate from 1959 to 1967, and then served as the chief judge of the People's Court there until 1970. The People's Court was folded into the District Court system in 1971.

Considered powerful in the fractious county Democratic organization, he served about two years as attorney for the county commissioners.

"He was a farmer-attorney, the last of that type of attorney," said Robert Kahoe, who practiced law with him from 1978 until 1981.

Mr. Clark's general law practice was mostly property, wills, trusts and other issues of everyday life. "It was very much the old-type country practice," Mr. Kahoe said, recalling that Mr. Clark judged his father's calves in the 1930s in a 4-H event.

Long concerned with the beauty of the landscape, he was named by Gov. Theodore R. McKeldin to lead the Governor's Committee to Keep Maryland Beautiful, and then by Gov. Spiro T. Agnew as the founding chairman of the Maryland Environmental Trust.

He grew up in Forest Hill, one of 11 children of the late William L. and Mamie A. Clark. William Clark served as a sheriff of Harford County.

After his 1934 graduation from the University of Maryland, where he studied dairy science, he began serving in the House of Delegates representing Harford County, a post he held from 1935 to 1947. He earned a law degree from the University of Baltimore School of Law in 1941. He joined the Bel Air law practice of Paul McNabb, and later practiced alone and in partnership with Michael Birch and Mr. Kahoe.

He retired in 1986, joining his wife in operating a commercial horse farm at their home at Rigbie House, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, in Darlington. He had owned the farm, where the Marquis de Lafayette rested his battle-weary troops in 1781, since 1960.

Over the years, he owned several properties of historical interest, including Tudor Hall, the birthplace of John Wilkes Booth, and he helped plan for restoration of the historic Rumsey Mansion in Joppa. Behind the scenes, he worked to help arrange the state purchase in the 1970s of the land that is now the Fair Hill Natural Resource Area.

In 1980, he received the Calvert Prize for historical preservation. In 1997, he was designated Soil Conservation Farmer of the Year in Harford County.

His other memberships included the Alpha Gamma Rho agricultural fraternity, the Maryland Horse Breeders Association, Deer Creek Watershed Association, Izaak Walton League, Darlington Lions Club, Steppingstone Museum and Harford County Historical Society.

Marriages to Aileen Kane and Margo England Oliphant ended in divorce.

Services will be held at 11 a.m. tomorrow at Harford Christian Evangelical Methodist Church, 1736 Whiteford Road in Street.

In addition to his wife of 24 years, he is survived by three sons, John E. Clark of Las Vegas, Philip A. Clark of Havre de Grace and James E. Clark of Thousand Oaks, Calif.; a daughter, Noel Steever of Bel Air; six grandsons; two granddaughters; and three great-grandchildren.

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