Clark Takes the Reins

Presidential pose: Clark, new DAA head

Presidential pose: Clark, new DAA head. Les Todd

This summer the Duke Alumni Association inaugurates a new president. Thomas C. Clark '69 takes over from William P. Miller '77 in July, beginning his two-year term just as the DAA completes a yearlong strategic planning process.

"Bill's job was to help write the strategic plan," says Sterly Wilder '83, executive director of alumni affairs, referring to the freshly completed, sixty-eight-page document that details the leaps and bounds the DAA intends to make over the next five years. "Tom's job is to implement it."

Such a task, challenging as it sounds, does not faze Clark, who in January retired as division president and managing director of U.S. Trust Company N.A. after nearly thirty years with the company. Over the years, Clark has served on boards for nonprofit organizations in the areas of opera, dance, theater, symphonic music, education, public television, and legal-aid services and has served as chair of the board of trustees of Union College in Kentucky. His Duke volunteering career began in earnest with the Duke Club of New York. He served in every leadership office the club offered, all the way to president, and has volunteered with the local Alumni Admissions Advisory Committee. He was chosen class president for his fifth reunion, and has volunteered at each reunion since then. He was a member of the recent Campaign for Duke and has served on the DAA board since 1999.

Clark, who lives in Manhattan and Litchfield County, Connecticut, with his partner of thirty years, John M. Davis, speaks with excitement about the various initiatives addressed in the DAA's new strategic plan. He talks about the ways the DAA is working to improve its club structure, the need to continue improving member services and benefits--through, for instance, a medical-access program for alumni that's been in the works, and that he hopes to bring to fruition, and the moves the DAA is taking to enlarge and strengthen its ties with alumni-affinity groups. He talks also of the importance of embracing diversity in the student and alumni bodies, promoting ethics in leadership, and refining "the whole work hard, play hard ethos of Duke."

It's not as though Clark is flying blind in his new role as president. Since Miller's term began in 2004, Clark, as president-elect, has shadowed him, attending meetings of the DAA board and executive committee and the university's board of trustees. In fact, at the board of trustees meeting this spring, it was Clark who spoke up, urging administrators to consider all the ways alumni could be used in furthering the goals of the university.

"The classic saying about volunteers involves the three W's: wealth, wisdom, and work," Clark says. "Everyone immediately thinks that when Duke calls on an alumnus, it is looking for the first element. But a wise alumni association, and a wise university, would be looking for the other two, as well."

"The alumni association," he continues, "is, frankly, challenging the administration to find ways to use the unlimited resources of intellect and volunteer time of Duke alumni."

Still, as someone who has served in leadership roles before, he says he recognizes that his toughest job as board president will be volunteer management and support. "We're talking about 120,000 volunteers," he says. "Even if we had only 1 or 2 percent of those people engaged--and we're hoping for more than that--you're still talking about thousands of people."

He reflects on his alma mater's handling of the lacrosse incident this spring, praising Duke's commitment to finding "the more enduring solutions" rather than the "immediate solutions."

"Duke," he says, "will clearly come through this crisis as it has come through important crises in the past, like the Bassett Affair [which helped set the guidelines for academic freedom], becoming all the stronger for it. Just as before, we should take advantage of this opportunity."

It was either luck or fate that brought Clark to Duke from his home in southeastern Kentucky, "the heart of Appalachia." As a high-school junior, he joined a friend on a college tour and fell in love with the campus upon arriving. He applied to Duke, Michigan State University, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and was accepted to all three. After being offered a full-tuition A.B. Duke scholarship, he quickly selected Duke. "Even at that young age, I could figure out what an honor that was," he says.

A self-described "classic Southern-Midwestern, all-around kid," he continued to pursue various interests at Duke, swimming on Duke's varsity team, serving as president of the Men's Glee Club, singing with the Chapel Choir, and acting as business manager for The Archive, the student literary magazine. He began his Duke career as a mathematics major and enrolled in an advanced calculus class. "I had never even heard the word calculus before in my life," he recalls. "All those other kids had had this stuff in high school." He decided to major in economics instead.

The economics program proved to be a good fit. He went on to receive an M.B.A. from Harvard University in 1971, and, after serving as a naval officer during the Vietnam War, he went into personal financial services.

"Duke is a place with such varied opportunities and interests," he says. "I picked up on that quickly."

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