Gary Clark

This week I am going to share some memories and thoughts about Gary Clark, who passed away on Memorial Day weekend. It has been a time of great sadness for our family and for the community at large. I promise that this will be as lighthearted as possible so don't be afraid to read further.

Although I cannot imagine one person west of Tidioute who hasn't heard of Gary, I feel that I should at least attempt a quick bio. (For once, I shall stick to the script in terms of brevity.)

Some of you might recall Gary from his days as the morning guy at WMGW. I think he had an afternoon slot too but I'm not sure. Just go with it, would you?

After a while, Gary became possessed by some kind of demon because he decided to bravely venture into the great abyss—known to most, as the world of politics. He proudly worked alongside Pennsylvania State Senator Bob Robbins for eighteen years.

Our Conneautville readers may remember that Gary and his tenderhearted wife Penny lived in the Valley for quite sometime. He was employed by Rigby Ford, which was located in that town, as you all know.

Among other things, he was an avid sports nut and was the voice of Meadville Bulldog Hockey for almost thirty years. The above-mentioned jazz isn't necessarily the most thorough resume but it will have to do. (Now you know why I don't attempt to pen the obituary section of this fine publication. Clearly, others carry out such tasks much better than I. Yes, I am digressing because it has become mandatory to do so.)

The first time I even knew that this person existed would have been when I entered the seventh grade. Gary was a senior at that time and I developed a mad crush on him. Yes, you read that here in print. I LIVED for all things Gary Clark. I even purchased pictures of him that had been used for the yearbook. Gary, Gary, Gary was all I ever talked about in those days.

Of course, my parents knew his family and, if memory serves, my sister used to babysit him. I simply idolized this man. Mind you, this all was back in the day when he possessed a head thick hair and was quite svelte. Years later when his locks exited stage left and a few pounds arrived on the scene, we would kid about my adolescent adoration. He said, while kind of moving his hand in the air like a Price is Right employee, “Lisa, look, you missed out on all of this.”

Back to my obsession with Gary... I soon got over him and moved to greener pastures. He ended up falling for Penny Button, who had been one of my closest friends since elementary school. Their courtship advanced to marriage, after a reasonable amount had unfolded. I think it was about seven years, give or take.

Gary holds a special place in the hearts of the Houserman Tribe because when my father died, very suddenly in 1991, he did something that was absolutely generous, unexpected and touching. He began his morning show by talking about my father and how much he meant to him, personally. I guess “Germ,” (nickname of my father), was influential in terms of Gary perusing a radio career. Because he had expressed himself so beautifully on his show, we asked if he might speak at the actual service. Never one to shy away from a public gig, he gladly agreed to do so.

On another note, Gary and I almost took some kind of sick pleasure in exchanging insults to the point of absurdity. Now, I don't like to say that we had a love/hate relationship but, at times, I think that it could be defined as such. For clarity, the loathing of one another generally lasted only until the next barb was jammed into the opponent and a touche was uttered. That is why it meant so very much to me when he took the time to honor my father, via the radio waves and on “stage” at the memorial service.

Our banter was all in good fun, I think. I am quite certain he wouldn't have bothered to pick on me mercilessly if he truly loathed me to the max. In other words, if Gary Clark cut a person to the quick, it only meant that he liked said person. Charming, wasn't he?

Another shocking, lurid and true situation, for lack of a better description, would have been when I moved back from Houston and Gary made me an offer I couldn't refuse. Now stop with your sick thoughts. Allow me to continue, like you have any say in the matter.

I reentered the region 1993, (you may recall a severe change in atmospheric pressure in that same year due to said arrival), and, of course, spent as much time at Gary and Penny's Conneautville home than should have been allowed by law. One day Penny and I were involved in deep conversation in the living room, probably about soap operas or something of that nature, when Gary just whipped through the area and said something that took us both aback.

He said, “Hey, you're here constantly so just move in. We can clean out that little room off the kitchen and I'll figure out what kind of rent you should pay.” After Penny and I returned from what we both thought was an out-of-body experience and realized he was totally serious, I accepted the invitation.

You see, this is what I'm trying to say in five thousand words or less... Even though Gary could be quite abrasive, he could, and would, oft' turn around, in the next breath, and do something totally selfless and, dare I say, generous. Plus, any man who openly admits to being smitten with kittens is, deep down, a real pussy cat himself.

I did have to follow a certain set of rules whilst dwelling under the same roof. I shall list two examples. The first was that I could not receive any phone calls after the hour of eight at night. The other one was that I could not have gentleman suitors spend the night, for any reason. Now, of course, I would have never dreamed of breaking that commandment and I behaved like a little angel. Just ask Penny if you don't believe me. Wait, you better not.

I have memories of playing cards with Penny, Gary and my parents in, what our family calls, the “pad,” which is a family room to most normal people. I would get very frustrated with my father because he took forever to play a card and Gary would take his side—anything to go against me. I also remember hosting dinner parties and Gary and Penny were always on the guest list. Of course, we had to be careful in terms of what to prepare. Vegetables, of any sort, mushrooms and/or any kind out health food was totally out of the question.

There are many goofy stories I could share about this multifaceted individual but I have to rein it in due to space, time and possible lawsuits. There just aren't really words that fully explain this man. For those who knew him personally, I think you get my meaning.

Life is not fair by any stretch of the imagination. Simply put, Gary Clark should not be missing from our landscape at such a young age. His wife, our dear Penny, shouldn't have to be faced with mourning the death of her soul mate.

I think it's important to gain some type of life-lesson or perspective when a person with whom you are associated passes.

For instance, I think we could all learn from Gary how to maintain some sense of normalcy even while feeling very tired and sick most of the time. He suffered from heart disease and was on a waiting list for a transplant. He did not seem to let this rule his life as he still attempted to have fun, interact with people and lend a hand to a friend. According to Penny, and to others with whom I've spoken, he did not complain about this ailment. In fact, many people didn't realize how severe his illness was.

Prior to his heart issues, he was quite the catalyst when it came to getting things done, during his days as a political player. Penny told me that many folks had approached her with stories of how he had been instrumental in aiding this or that organization, community or even individual families.

The part that struck me was when she said that he hadn't even told her about some of this jazz. He did not have, what I like to call, the Oprah Syndrome. The definition of such, as invented by your humble columnist, would go as follows: one who must let it be know to all that he/she has accomplished something major, or minor; a tooter of one's own horn in a ceremonial fashion. (No offense to Oprah lovers but I am of the belief that every good deed this woman does must be made known to all via interviews, news articles, airplane banners, blimp advertisements, etc., while she bathes in a sea of accolades.)

Although Gary Clark did not object to being in the spotlight and seemed quite cozy in that position, from time to time, he could, and did, know when to simmer down and step aside.

Penny and Gary have always reminded me of my parents when it came to how their marriage ticked. My father, like Gary, was the showman while delicate Mother let him have his party, so to speak. This is exactly the dynamic relationship that Penny and Gary shared. She is not one to be thrust into the public domain and she seemed content to let her husband shine. They complimented each other in a way that worked very well.

It's kind of difficult to tie this all up in that elusive neat bow. In closing I must say that I am very fortunate to have known Gary Clark, even though we often drove each other to drink—short drive for me, I am aware. My heart goes out to his very close friends, his family and to Penny, most of all.

Life can cease abruptly as was illustrated by his untimely passing. I find it amazing that a man who walked earth for a brief 55 years, had such a tremendous impact on an entire region. (Yet another trait that takes me back to my father.) There will never be another like Gary. If nothing else, he sure added a dose of laughter, tossed with a heaping shovelful of sarcasm, a dash of joy and a ton of laughter to this world. Now that is one recipe I shall forever miss.