LAKE PLACID - This community is mourning the loss of Matthew B. Clark Jr., a longtime public servant who died on Friday at his home at the age of 85.
Clark served as the town of North Elba's clerk for 27 years and supervisor for 14. He started as clerk in 1954 and continued to serve in that capacity until 1981, when he ran successfully for town supervisor, replacing a retiring Jack Shea. Clark held the position until his retirement in 1995, when he was replaced by Shirley Seney.
North Elba town Councilman Bob Miller told the News that Clark was "one of the greats.
"He was truly the elder statesmen of this town," Miller said. "He didn't leave his house much, but anyone who ran for office, whether it was the town board or if you ran for Congress, you had to sit at Matt's kitchen table and let him tell you about his love for this town and how he thought you could best serve this community."
As a teenager, Clark competed in bobsled, but his career was cut short because of an accident at Mount Van Hoevenberg that resulted in the loss of one of his legs. That was in 1946, the same year he graduated from Lake Placid High School. Current Lake Placid News columnist Frank Shatz wrote in a 1975 Adirondack Daily Enterprise article that Clark went to college "in spite of the loss ... determined that no physical disability would hold him back from anything he set his mind to."
Clark was born into the family that runs Lake Placid's funeral home, and he initially set out to join the family business, graduating in 1949 from the American Academy of Embalming and Mortuary Research. But five years later he switched to public service, which would become his career.
"Having become town clerk," Clark told Shatz, "I made up my mind regarding my primary responsibility in that office. I resolved to help people who come to me with their problems in any way I could, to the best of my ability. And, I believe, I have done it. It gives me great pleasure and satisfaction."
In 1956, Clark worked with John "Bud" Colby to re-establish Lake Placid's junior ski jumping program, an effort for which both men were honored when they were inducted into the Lake Placid Hall of Fame in 1991.
"Their program produced several regional and national champions and four U.S. Olympic team members," Enterprise Sports Editor Jim Stowell wrote in August 1991. "Through their many years of dedication to the community's youth, they inspired enthusiasm, sportsmanship and a will to exceed."
Tom Scozzafava was only 28 years old in 1986 when he was elected supervisor of the town of Moriah and started serving with Clark on the Essex County Board of Supervisors.
"Matt kind of took me under his wing," Scozzafava said. "I thought it was because he just liked me, but the real reason was he wanted those 412 weighted votes when he needed them. He smoked cigars back then. I'd bring him up a cigar - every morning before I would head to Elizabethtown I'd stop at the little coffee shop in Port Henry and make sure I bought Matt a cigar.
"He was a good man. We dealt with some tough issues back in the day. We were there when we went from partial assessments to 100 percent valuations. The burn plant - it was Matt Clark's and my vote that kept Essex County out of the tri-county burn plant business."
Scozzafava said Clark taught him a lot about public service. The biggest lesson?
"Always return your phone calls," Scozzafava said. "To this day, I keep a steno pad - I can tell you who I spoke to in 1986 and what we talked about. That was big with Matt. If you have a constituent call you on any matter, return your calls, because to them it's got to be important otherwise they wouldn't call your office.
"And the one thing he always told me was, get your name in the paper," Scozzafava added with a laugh. "Obviously, I learned that one well."
Clark had heart surgery in August 1994 and retired from public office a little more than a year later. In a December 1995 Enterprise article, he said the signing of an agreement between North Elba and the state Olympic Regional Development Authority, which was formed to take over operations of Olympic venues after the 1980 winter games, was one of the most important things that happened on his watch.
"The deal we had with ORDA was great," Clark told the Enterprise. "It kept the venues going."
Clark served as supervisor when Walmart considered opening a store in Lake Placid. He said in 1995 that the battle over Walmart was one of the worst issues he dealt with as supervisor. That year, the town board approved a local law subjecting large-scale commercial projects to state Adirondack Park Agency review.
Clark also oversaw the North Elba Park District's takeover of operations at the Mirror Lake beach, an issue that has reared its head again in 2012, with the current board calling for the village to help fund the beach's operation.
The town's current supervisor, Roby Politi, said he often called Clark to ask for advice.
"He always provided endless historical facts and details about the past," Politi said. "The guy had amazing stamina, given the health issues that he had. He really exemplified an enduring spirit and commitment to his community like few others have. ... His gift to me was measureless in terms of his knowledge."
Clark never sought political office beyond town supervisor. Politi said Clark taught him that few things are more important than serving one's home community.
"He was all about Lake Placid," Politi said. "What he did for us was 40 years of great service."
An emotional Miller said Clark encouraged him to get into local politics. Miller said Clark's commitment to his family, his faith and his community continues to be an inspiration.
"Matt was the guy who really showed us how it's supposed to be done," Miller said.
Lake Placid village Mayor Craig Randall, in a post on Facebook, said Lake Placid "has lost a true friend, leader and dedicated (and) tireless civil servant with the passing of Matt Clark."