Rocket manWritten by Michael Miller | Editor in Chief | firstname.lastname@example.org
Marty Clark, 73, died Dec. 15. While I was not even a brief footnote in his life, he provided one of the professional highlights of mine.
For 30 years, Clark worked in the Public Information Office (PIO) at the University of Toledo, serving as Public Information Officer for 27 of those years. He was a man of tradition, a believer in the Society of Professional Journalists and its ethics codes. He was a member of the Board of Trustees of the Northwestern Ohio Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists for more than 25 years.
I remember him as an affable, offbeat man who seemed to understand the percolating irony of his job, which often required putting a smile and positive spin on university news or presidential follies that reflected negatively on his institution.
Vicki L. Kroll, a longtime and current UT communications employee and a Toledo Free Press contributor, remembers Clark as many who worked with him will: “Marty was very thorough when it came to writing and could crank out stories with the best of them. He was very knowledgeable about UT and its history and always willing to help.”
Joe O’Conor, who worked with Clark in the UT PIO office after he retired as executive editor of The Blade in 1984, said in a Jan. 5 phone interview that Clark was “very loyal to UT, accurate in his writing, a good guy … he would not mislead anyone. He was totally honest, but he took care of UT.”
O’Conor shared a story that illustrated Clark’s savvy in walking the line between truth and spin.
“James McComas was the first UT president to make $100,000,” O’Conor said. “When Marty left the board meeting to write up the news release about the hiring, he wrote a long, two-page release, and in the very last paragraph, mentioned the salary. The report was accurate, and had media read it to the very end, they would have seen that part of the story, but no radio or TV news picked it up.”
O’Conor recalled that Clark once had an office next to the office of Max Gerber, who was UT sports information director from 1960 to 1988.
“Marty was a loyal Democrat and Max was a true conservative,” he said. “I used to walk by them in the morning, throw out a political comment and walk away, leaving them to talk it out all day.”
Gerber said in a Jan. 5 phone interview that despite the political differences, he and Clark remained friends.
“He was always a very positive person — he was better than I am in that way — energetic, happy-go-lucky, seldom complained,” Gerber said. “He was a good friend, very loyal to the university, very intelligent.”
Clark would be proud to be remembered for his work, his friendships and his undying UT spirit.
Spirits of another kind were also a factor in Clark’s life. As one retired UT source shared with me, “Marty was such an ‘old school’ kind of guy, what with the martinis at lunch and the ashtray in his office (until smoking was banned). He also had that old-school gentlemanliness and integrity. He had a well-read intelligence, and there was a deep caring for the university that many didn’t fully apprehend until he was retiring.
“Marty could be exasperating, but he was also intelligent, kind and thoughtful. He was the kind of guy you didn’t want to see anything bad happen to. Even back then, his health wasn’t the best, but he carried himself with a dignity that you don’t see often enough these days.”
I worked in the UT Public Information Office for a semester in 1991 and remember the respect the staff had for Clark’s work and its collective tolerance for his lunchtime indulgences; today, we’d probably call it enabling. I did not have much direct contact with Clark during my semester in the office, but his words were always patient and encouraging.
A year later, after my acrimonious, cowardly and probably justified dismissal from the UT student newspaper, I partnered with fellow idealist Will Nicholes and launched Spectrum, an independent weekly tabloid newspaper designed to provide insight into issues and people largely ignored by the established and well funded behemoth. Spectrum was a hit with students and quickly grew, but was viewed as a scourge by some key UT administrators who did not want an independent voice on campus in general and who specifically did not want that voice to come from me. There were UT administrators who tried to block distribution, who tried to block production and who tried to block fair access to information.
Marty Clark was not among that confederacy of dunces. He never crossed the line and went against UT’s interests, but he was fair, which was a lot more than many of his contemporaries offered. During a conversation at the dedication of the expanded UT Student Union in 1993, Clark commented on Spectrum’s extensive coverage.
“You’re doing what no one else has done before,” he said. “Working outside the system, outside its funding and protection. You’re doing good work, good journalism. UT is better off with your efforts, even if it doesn’t want to admit it.”
Those words impacted me to the core. As nearly 20 years have passed but my overall situation hasn’t, I continue to take inspiration from them.
Rest in peace, Marty. Your work and influence live on.
Michael S. Miller is editor in chief of Toledo Free Press and Toledo Free Press Star. E-mail: email@example.com.