Friday, March 13, 2009

So long, Clarke

Somehow, I hadn't heard about Clarke Thomas' death Feb. 21 and missed the obituary that appeared in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. It's a shame to lose him. He was a bit of a contradiction: a kind, thoughtful and gentle person, and a great newspaperman at the same time.

He spent 43 years in the business, in Kansas, Nebraska and Oklahoma before coming to Pittsburgh and editing the editorial page. Although he retired some time ago, he kept writing for the P-G as senior editor until very recently. He published a book, "Front-page Pittsburgh," in 2005.

Clarke went with a group of environmentalists from Pittsburgh to Siberia in 1994. While there, the journalists at the Kuznetsk Worker in Novokuznetsk sought help from him and the P-G. They were searching for a sister newspaper in the U.S. to teach them how to survive as a business independent of government. Interest at the Post-Gazette was not high for such a project, so Clarke contacted us at the Observer-Reporter. That's how our newspaper's Siberian adventure began, and how so many journalists, students and teachers were able to experience life in another country from 1996 to 2004.

When environmental journalist Rita Stachovich came her for the first time in 1997, her first request was to visit Thomas, and to give him presents and thanks for making possible the relationship that helped save her newspaper. We had a delightful dinner at the home of Clarke and his wife, Jean.

I kept Clarke posted on our business in Novokuznetsk over the years, and he became a regular contributor to the charitable organization I formed – Books for the World – which in 2000 sent more than 17,000 books to schools and libraries in Novokuznetsk.

I will always remember Clarke as an example of this simple truth: Sometimes even the smallest acts of kindness and consideration can result in great achievements.

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