A lawmaker and land preservationist

James Clark Jr. 1918-2006


James Clark Jr., a former state senator, civic leader and long-time Howard County farmer who was a pioneer in land preservation, died yesterday of cancer at his Ellicott City home. He was 87.

Senator Clark was widely respected as an elder statesman and community leader who friends and colleagues say set an example of civility and integrity in his political dealings and personal life.

He served for 24 years in the state Senate -- including four years as Senate president -- where he was instrumental in the creation of legislation for farmland preservation and Project Open Space. And he was committed to Howard County, helping to start institutions including the Howard County Conservancy, the Howard County Fair, Howard Community College and the Antique Farm Machinery Club.

Senator Clark's 540-acre farm in Ellicott City produced milk for 30 years and continues to have field corn, vegetables, beef cattle and sheep. A farm stand has been attracting customers for 37 years, and the senator turned a portion of the property into a petting farm with his daughter, Martha Anne Clark of Ellicott City.

"He was Howard County," said County Executive James N. Robey. "He was someone everyone at the local level looked up to for advice and guidance."

James Clark Jr. was born on his parents' small farm in Ellicott City a few weeks after the armistice that ended World War I. His father, James Clark Sr., was a Circuit Court judge who traced his roots in Howard County back to 1797. His mother, Alda Hopkins Clark, was a direct descendant of the Ellicotts, who settled the mill town that became Ellicott City.

He attended school in Ellicott City and earned a bachelor's degree in animal husbandry from Iowa State College in 1941.

The summer before graduation, he met Lillian Hawkins on a group outing to Sandy Point State Park, and they married in 1946.

In his memoir, Jim Clark: Soldier, Farmer, Legislator, Senator Clark said his wife "fulfilled the role of political partner flawlessly" by taking care of the children and the farm, attending political events, campaigning and offering "her very sound judgment." She died in 2001.

After graduating from college, he volunteered for the Army, and while training at Luke Field in Arizona was accepted into a newly formed glider corps. He spent 4 1/2 years in the Army Air Forces and served in Europe during World War II.

Senator Clark wrote in his memoirs about flying through enemy fire to transport the 17th Airborne into Germany for the final thrust of the war. He also wrote about one day when he helped carry survivors out of the concentration camp at Dachau and place them on planes to Belgium.

"This was one of the most unforgettable experiences of the war for me," he wrote, "and after more than 50 years I can still see those faces and wasted bodies."

On his return to the United States, Senator Clark entered into an agreement to take over a farm his father owned in Ellicott City, and raised cattle, wheat and corn. In the late 1950s, the farm expanded to include the neighboring Brown farm, and -- protected by an easement through the farmland preservation program -- it remains a landmark on Route 108 today.

He wrote in his memoirs, "As early as I can remember, I was in love with farming. I liked everything about the raising and harvesting of crops and the feeding and care of livestock. This is something that was in my blood, as our family on both sides had been good farmers since before there were any records."

He also wanted to become a legislator from an early age, and in 1958, when he was 39, he was elected to the Maryland House of Delegates. Four years later, he was elected to the state Senate, where he became vice chairman of the finance committee and a member of the Legislative Council and served as Senate president from 1979 to 1983.

"I didn't know a thing about the legislature when I went down there, not a thing," he said in an interview with Howard Community College's television station last year. But, he said "I got some things done that are lasting."

During his time in the legislature, Senator Clark championed civil rights causes and worked to revise the state pension system. He fought for many years at the national level for a balanced budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

He often said he was particularly proud of creating legislation that formed the Maryland Farmland Preservation Foundation and Program Open Space.

"It could be said he is the father of our land preservation programs," said Charles C. Feaga, a Howard County councilman and a chairman for the Maryland office of the federal Farm Service Agency. "I think we would have continued to build without setting land aside for the future of agriculture. ... He worked very hard, and we [farmers] were very proud he actually made a living out of milking cows."

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