PATERSON — The late Joe Clark, the no-nonsense, unconventional and legendary Eastside High School principal, was honored in a City Hall ceremony Thursday attended by about 20 of his family members.
Clark — known for carrying baseball bat and a bullhorn as he imposed order walking the halls of Eastside — made the cover of Time magazine in 1988 and had a movie made about him the following year.
“Whenever I go away from our community and tell people that I am from Paterson, they tell me that Joe Clark made our city famous,” Mayor Andre Sayegh told the crowd of over 100 people. “Joe Clark put Paterson on the map. He was a pillar of the community.”
The mayor gave Clark’s family a commemorative key to the city and officials are considering naming a portion of Park Avenue in his honor. Clark died last December at the age of 82 at his home in Florida.
His widow, 82-year old Hazel Gibson Clark, spoke at the event, saying her husband never forgot his roots and that she was inspired each day to “do even more to help young people.”
Clark’s two daughters, Joetta Clark Diggs and Hazel Clark McIlwain, spoke glowingly of their father’s impact on their lives. Joetta was a four-time Olympian in middle distance running events and Hazel did the same on three occasions.
“My father had a tough exterior but he also had a heart of compassion,” Diggs shared. “His goal was to prepare students to step out into and experience a bigger world than Paterson.”
McIlwain remembered, as a young child, driving to school with her dad.
“I would wonder, ‘Why is my father carrying a baseball bat and a bullhorn?’” she said. “Not long after, I learned that it was because my dad was passionate about the lives of young people.”
During the ceremony, more than 15 former Eastiside students stepped behind the podium and sang their alma mater’s school song. Participants said that during their high school years, doing so was an everyday requirement that Clark instituted for the purpose of invoking school pride.
“I attended school in East Orange and today I don’t know my own high school’s fight song, but I sure know Eastside’s,” Diggs exclaimed, with a smile on her face.
Bernard Clark, now 47, said that he remembers his uncle visiting his home once a week when he was young.
“Uncle Joe always kept an eye on us and made sure we studied and were on top of our books,” Bernard Clark reminisced. “Whenever he came over, he would always have us learn a new word. When I was older, he used to tell me, ‘Bernard, you should be part of the solution, not the problem.’”
One of Clark’s nieces, Carolyn Clark, is a retired officer from the Newark Police Department.
“After my uncle’s tenure at Eastside, he continued to make an impact on the lives of young people,” the niece stated. “He was the director of a juvenile facility, the Essex County Detention House, in Newark. There, he installed educational programs for the young men.
“He told them that this was not a place to only spend leisure time but to work hard, study, and learn to prepare yourself for the outside,” she added. “He wanted them to know that everyone can have a second chance.”
Original article can be found here.