Judge Clark: The Passing of a Great Man

One of the Reagan Revolution’s most loyal stalwarts, Judge Bill Clark, died Saturday at age 81 from Parkinson’s disease. 

Clark’s political odyssey with President Ronald Reagan went back to the California days when Reagan appointed Clark as his gubernatorial chief of staff and nominated him to the California Supreme Court. Later, Judge Clark would become Reagan’s Interior secretary and National Security Adviser. In that latter position, Clark played a vital role in developing national security initiatives like the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) that paved the way for Reagan winning the Cold War.

Yet despite all his impressive personal accomplishments, Clark was a quiet Cold Warrior who preferred to cast the spotlight on President Reagan, not himself. That reservoir of confidence flowed from the personal closeness Clark and Reagan shared. No one save Nancy Reagan was closer to Ronald Reagan than Bill Clark.

Reagan biographer Edmund Morris called Clark the “most important and influential person in the first administration” and “the only person in the entire two terms who had any kind of spiritual intimacy with the President.”

Judge Clark’s bond with President Reagan was marked by a fierce loyalty; Reagan knew he could count on Clark to handle tough situations. Oliver North tells the story of the time Judge Clark interceded on Reagan’s behalf in a battle with Secretary of State Al Haig:

Mr. Clark was the only member of the Reagan administration so close to — and trusted — by the president as to speak for him without prior consultation, when circumstances warranted it.

Lots of people in the State Department didn’t know how close British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and Reagan were. So one day Secretary of State Al Haig called Clark to demand what Thatcher didn’t want — shuttle diplomacy between Buenos Aires and London — and that if Haig didn’t have his way on this, Haig would resign.

Clark simply said, "Al, we’re going to miss you. The president accepts your resignation."

I was privileged to know and spend time with Judge Clark as part of my work with Reagan Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger and while serving together on the board of directors for Young America’s Foundation and the Reagan Ranch, where he served as Co-Chairman. Despite his long battle with Parkinson’s disease, Judge Clark never missed a chance to defend freedom, his friends, or the Reagan legacy.

While attending Caspar Weinberger’s funeral, for example, I vividly recall Judge Clark standing up at the funeral reception to vigorously defend Cap’s legacy against the ludicrous charges surrounding Iran Contra. “Cap was loyal, brilliant, a patriot!” he said.

They were words that applied equally to him.  

Loyal, brilliant, a patriot—that  was Judge Bill Clark.


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