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The Colonel was a driving force in Sooke

Historian Elida Peers writes about the life of Bob Clark

  • Jan. 25, 2012 1:00 p.m.

LT. COL. Robert E. Clark, OMM CD

1931 – 2012

A commitment to honour, duty, service and patriotism in the broadest sense were integral to the character of Robert Edwin Clark, who passed away peacefully at home on January 12.

Born an easterner, dedicating 37 years as a career soldier, Bob went on to contribute a further three decades of public service to his adopted community. Outstanding as a strong leader, he was sometimes referred to as a “benevolent dictator.” At the same time, his perceptive abilities and genuine straightforward purpose enabled him to draw people to work together, supporting them in community objectives and bringing many positive aspects to the life of the region.

Born in Sarnia, Ontario, Bob enlisted in the Canadian Forces at 18, serving with the Royal Canadian Regiment, first assignment Korea. Over the years, the conscientious young soldier received promotions and postings to a variety of locations that included bases in Soest and Baden-Soelligin in Germany and a stint in Cyprus. While in Germany in 1955 he met and married Gardy (Edelgard) whose generous and supportive nature has surely contributed to Bob’s successes in life.

The couple raised son Jimmy and daughters Brenda and Tracy, who all enjoyed the opportunities for travel offered by living on European bases. In his home country Bob’s postings included Petawawa, London and Ottawa.  In the late 1970s he was Northern Command Warrant Officer for NWT and the Yukon, based at Yellowknife.

When Bob was posted to CFB Esquimalt as the Administrative Officer for Regional Operations in 1980, Bob and Gardy, their youngsters grown, made their new home in Sooke. In his final Armed Forces years, he commuted to Vernon, serving as Commanding Officer of Vernon Army Cadet Camp. Retiring in 1988 with the rank of Lt. Colonel, Bob has been honoured twice at Rideau Hall, where he was appointed an Officer of the Order of Military Merit.

In their new home, Bob and Gardy joined in with Sooke’s age-old traditions, as volunteers, with the Royal Canadian Legion, the Sooke Region Historical Society and Sooke Community Association. Their meeting with Bruce and Renate Logan (Renate’s family sharing roots in Germany with Gardy) gave an added opportunity for special friendship.

Settled in Sooke, Bob’s lifelong interest in politics could now be indulged and in 1987 he ran successfully for Regional Director of what was then Sooke Electoral Area of the CRD. He was appointed to committees for Health and Municipal Services.

Another appointment was to Regional Parks, and in this capacity he worked with Louise Paterson of East Sooke, who has served as our local parks committee chair for more years than she cares to remember. Louise says, “He was known as ‘the Colonel,’ a man who got things done. It was a privilege to work with him. Bob stood by his word – he also respected yours. As a friend he supported, encouraged and wisely advised me to never give up. I will miss his big friendly bear-hugs.”

During Bob’s term, recognition was being planned for the 200 year anniversaries of European explorations on the North Pacific coast, in particular Spain’s expeditions. Looking forward to encouraging the entire community from Port Renfrew to East Sooke to work together, Bob proposed the formation of Sooke Festival Society, with delegates representing all major organizations.

The results were far-reaching. The communal efforts meant Sooke’s Bi-Centennial celebrations at Whiffin Spit ranked as tops throughout the province, Washington and Oregon. Co-chairs Joan Titus and I, became partners with Bob Clark in this program, government and volunteers working together.

One of the delightful aspects of the celebrations was when Regional Director Clark and I met with Spain’s emissary at the Empress Hotel one evening in 1989. The emissary was dubious about small town Sooke’s ability to accomplish an important celebration. Desperate as we were to convince Spain to become a participant in the re-enactment celebrations, Bob and I played it by ear, and sure enough, with a few well-placed toe signals under the table, we went home with Spain’s commitment to attend the 1990 Bi-centennial, host a national reception at Sooke Harbour House and provide the King of Spain’s Cup for our instantly-conceived longboat competitions.

Joan Titus recalls, “Bob was on the Manuel Quimper float in mariner costume in weekend parades right along with the rest of us, entertaining us with his stories and hearty laughs.” This was also when Sooke’s Town Crier was established.

Another coastal event during Bob’s “watch” was the Exxon Valdez oil disaster in 1989 in Prince William Sound, which stood to impact the entire coastline. True to his military background Bob quickly initiated a response by arranging for Sooke Marine Industries to purchase available oil boom equipment from the state of Washington to help protect our shores.

Wally Vowles, who became a key member of this environmental preparedness committee, recalls, “I think that Bob was probably one of the first to recognize the lack of preparedness, both in equipment and planning, in the event of an oil spill, and that’s what prompted him to act. And that turned out to be very true.  As a result, a task force with members from Canada and the U.S. was established, and the Coast Guard now has a serious hazard management program. Locally, volunteers built a shelter and stored the equipment on Whiffin Spit.”

In Bob’s second term as Sooke’s regional director from 1994 to 1996, and as Regional Board Chair, he provided oversight to the development of a local emergency program. Susan McLean, emergency co-ordinator at that time, credits Bob Clark with helping propel the local emergency program to a stature envied throughout the province and one used as a model across Canada during that period.

“As a career military officer ‘the Colonel’ understood the vital importance of contingency planning, training, developing a strong chain of command and creating a stockpile of materials and resources in readiness for a large-scale emergency. He was fearless when it came to making hard decisions.” Susan recalled “He knew how to delegate, allowed trusted experts in their field to carry out their duties, and as importantly, he was always ready to provide sound advice, strong leadership or a quirky sense of humour, all at the right times.”

Provincially, Bob ran unsuccessfully for MLA, but continued to devote his expertise to local works. Former MLA Rick Kasper speaks of the friendship he and Bob developed, “In the late 1980s I had the privilege to serve with Bob on the CRD Board, and during those three years we became good friends. After I was elected MLA in 1991, I continued to work closely with him. Bob made Sooke a better place, helping shape the path to becoming a municipality.”

Joan Titus mentions being asked by Bob, through the EDC, to research statistics on the rate of accidents, demonstrating the dangerous road layout leading from Sooke eastward. She recalls Bob using those statistics to pressure the Ministry of Highways to undertake improvements to Hwy. 14. During his term Sooke was brought under the 911 jurisdiction, and the Blue Box program established.

Whiffin Spit was in the news again when the promontory protecting the harbour suffered a serious breach. When bureaucracy seemed to hold up repair of the Spit, Bob teamed up with Eric Butler who brought blasted rock from his development at EriNan and rebuilt the Spit at the lowest possible cost.

Bob would willingly turn his hand to any chore, it did not have to be one of prominence. When Edward Milne Community School was preparing for its 50th anniversary and celebration of the opening of the sleek new facility in 1996, Bob joined with another past regional director, Lorna Barry, in sitting buttering buns by the hour in readiness for the feast. Lorna recalls his trademark jokes kept them going.

Another event in 1996 was the opening of the new fire hall on Otter Point Road. The new fire hall planned by Sooke’s Fire Trustees now allowed him the initiative to approach the Trustees and propose that if they would enlarge the building to include CRD services, CRD rental funds could then go to help pay down the costs. This is the construction that became, after incorporation, Sooke’s municipal building. Earlier on, Bob had worked with the Fire Trustees to establish a street lighting program.

He was proud to act as host for the 1,000 athletes that were welcomed to the Sooke Community Flats in 1994, here from all parts of the world to participate in Victoria’s XV Commonwealth Games. He and Games president George Heller even helped our Sooke men with the salmon barbecue.

Bob and Gardy continued to treasure family visits throughout each year. With son Jimmy serving as a school principal in Rocky Mountain House, Alberta, daughter Tracy’s career in Toronto, and daughter Brenda moving with her husband Stew to join the Clarks in Sooke, Bob basked in their company, but nothing stopped his creative mind.

A stalwart at the Royal Canadian Legion, he served in a variety of capacities. Unique events he set in place in 1998 and 1999 were the Festivals of Remembrance, musical extravaganzas that brought a full house to the new theatre at Edward Milne Community School. The Legion’s president at the time, Bill Jones, speaks of these events, “As most everyone knows, Bob Clark was a very unselfish man. He wanted no accolades from me on behalf of the Legion on this particular day, but like it or not, we presented him with a plaque to thank him for his “Inspiration, Dedication and Expertise.”

A true Scot, one of the last projects that Bob undertook was to organize Sooke’s own marching pipe band, Sooke Pipes and Drums, a legacy that will continue to warm the hearts of our townsfolk. Steak nights at the Legion with friends, rounds of laughter at the table and early morning walks with daughter Brenda, kept Bob enjoying life in recent years, though health concerns were beginning to give him challenges.

Christmas a few short weeks ago saw the whole family together, bringing Bob all the joy he wished for. He leaves Gardy, his wife of 57 years, son Jimmy, daughter-in-law Jolene, daughter Brenda, son-in-law Stew Parkinson, daughter Tracy, grandchildren Katelyn, Hillary, Braeden and Sean.

A celebration of the life of Bob Clark will be held at Sooke’s Royal Canadian Legion Br. 54 at 2 p.m. on Tuesday Jan. 31.

Elida Peers, historian, Sooke Region Museum