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20 March 2017

In Memoriam: Dr. Alan Roderick Clark 1938 ~ 2017

by Eleanor Clark

Alan Roderick Clark was born on 5 May, 1938 in Champaign, Illinois to Harry Murray Clark and Ruth Elizabeth Sommer. “Al” was the first of four children, and elder brother to Steve, Linda, and David. Al’s parents both graduated from the University of Illinois in 1936. Ruth graduated Phi Beta Kappa. “Murray” earned a PhD. in chemistry in 1940.

Al with his mother, Ruth
Ruth’s parents were William H. Sommer and Emma Getz, both born in Illinois. Emma’s parents were Henry Getz and Hannah Wenger. Al traced both sides of his maternal line to German immigrants who came to the Midwest in the 1800s.

1926 Sommer Family Trip to Wawona
Murray’s parents were Harry Samuel Clark and Margery Fairchild Murray. Al traced their ancestry to colonial New England, including Abel Clark of Vermont and Mayflower passenger Miles Standish. Al was most proud of identifying his revolutionary war soldier, Reuben Murray of Scotland.

Murray and Al Clark, May 1940

Al as a young boy
Alan began his schooling in Peoria, but when he was in third grade the family moved to San Jose. Al attended Edwin Markham Junior High and Willow Glen High School where he played football, baseball and trumpet in the marching band. Alan was Class Valedictorian at graduation. He entered Stanford University with a General Motors Scholarship in 1956 and graduated four years later with a Bachelor of Science Degree with Great Distinction. He also received his Phi Beta Kappa key.

School Age
Football Team
Senior Portrait
In high school Al and several buddies rebuilt a model T in their spare time. Flight was a lifelong interest of Al’s. He was caught up in his maternal uncle’s interest in flying; Al built wooden model airplanes which he flew. While at Stanford, learned to fly. Every week he went home to San Jose with his laundry, and then went to San Jose airport for flying lessons. He earned his private pilot’s license and enjoyed treating his friends to trips around the Bay Area.    

Siblings Steve, David, Linda and Al Clark, 1963
Al met Eleanor when they were embarking on a student tour of Europe. They enjoyed the history, art and cuisine of the countries they visited.  Eleanor says she fell in love with him in Paris, but he always said he knew it was love in Carcassonne.  They walked everywhere and both lost weight - an added bonus to the trip. They were married August 20, 1960 and drove across the U.S. to Princeton, New Jersey, where Al began his graduate study. He received his PhD in Physics in 1964, and they returned to California along with two sons, Stuart and Douglas. They settled in Moraga and Allison was born a year later.

Al was employed at Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory as a high-energy physicist for his entire career, retiring in 1998. He worked on detectors for experimental physics projects at Stanford Linear Accelerator and Fermi Lab in Illinois. He was known as the “can do guy” by his colleagues, [and later by his fellow volunteers at the California Genealogical Society]. He was the person who could resolve the technical issues to enable the work to proceed.

Working on his thesis
Four Generations of Clark Men:
Al, Stuart (in Al's arms), Harry Samuel, Murray Clark
Pescadero, 1967
Fall Harvest 1968
Al enjoyed fishing and skiing most of his life. Opening day of trout season was a big event every year. The Clark family had a cabin at Serene Lakes, which was base camp for many expeditions both summer and winter. With his Stanford roommates, he began an annual fishing tradition of Fall Harvest. In the evenings and when snow prevented them from fishing, they would play Bridge. The family sold the cabin in 1989 and Al promised Eleanor they would finally travel instead of having to maintain the cabin. That same year they were invited to Puerto Vallarta with friends and fell in love with the town and the climate. They bought into the time share program and enjoyed annual visits and many friends who came the same time every year.  

Al and Eleanor joined First Covenant Church in 1985 and enjoyed the many friendships they had here. Al served as a Trustee, Deacon and usher for many years.  

A volunteer with the CGS Computer Team

Al was a dedicated and beloved member of the California Genealogical Society. He was a regular volunteer on the computer team. Kathy Watson recalled that “Al was a very organized and knowledgeable computer volunteer. He was always supportive and helpful. He was always a joy to work with.” His colleague from the Lawrence Berkeley Lab wrote that Al “deeply embraced the collaborative spirit. [He] was a straightforward, kind, scrupulously honest scientist who excelled at working seamlessly with many colleagues.”

Al and Eleanor enjoyed Bird Watching from their home in Moraga and on their various travels. Puerto Vallarta was a rich source of beautiful, colorful species. It was this interest that finally convinced Al to take a cruise, because the pre-cruise trip to Costa Rica boasted 450 species of birds!  Later, he protested only mildly when Eleanor insisted on another cruise with the whole family to celebrate their 50th Anniversary.

With his many interests and friends, Al enjoyed a rich life. The members and volunteers at the California Genealogical Society will miss him.

Al passed away peacefully on January 29, 2017. A memorial service was held on 11 February 2017. You can read his obituary here.

Contributions in Al’s memory may be made to the California Genealogical Society, 2201 Broadway, LL2, Oakland, California, 94612-3031.

The California Genealogical Society wishes to thank Eleanor Clark for this tribute, which was originally written for Al’s memorial service.  

Photos provided by the Clark Family.

Copyright © 2017 by California Genealogical Society