I’m very saddened to report that William P. Clark, also known as “Bill Clark” or “Judge Clark,” passed away Saturday, August 10th at 6:00 AM California time. He died at the ranch so dear to his heart, surrounded by the family so dear to his heart.
Bill had been ailing for a long time—a long battle with Parkinson’s disease. He began receiving hospice care about six months ago. It’s amazing that he survived as long as he did. Typical of Bill, he kept hanging on and fighting and fighting. We expected him to go, but for some reason he still felt like he needed to stay in this world and do something more. He was always thinking of what he and Ronald Reagan called “The DP”—The Divine Plan.
Born October 23, 1931 in Oxnard, California, Bill Clark was 81 years old. He now joins his beloved wife, Joan. -Paul Kengor
EDITOR’S NOTE: To honor the life of Judge William Clark, we have reprinted the following article below. We hope you enjoy it.
The Judge vs. the Dictator: Bill Clark survives Moammar Kaddafi
Many readers of this site are familiar with Judge William P. Clark. Clark quietly served Ronald Reagan with great distinction first as Governor Reagan’s chief of staff in California, then as a Reagan appointee to the California Supreme Court, and finally as President Reagan’s deputy secretary of state, national security adviser, and secretary of the interior—among other roles.
None of those posts were as consequential as Clark’s pivotal role as Reagan’s right-hand man in taking down the Soviet Union, which Clark did as head of Reagan’s National Security Council. In getting to that position, Clark, a devout pro-life Catholic, turned down an opportunity in the summer of 1981 to sit on the U.S. Supreme Court. That seat instead went to Sandra Day O’Connor. Had Clark accepted the offer, Roe v. Wade might have been overturned in 1992 in the case of Casey v. Planned Parenthood. Alas, Clark instead helped Reagan win the Cold War, leaving the winning of the Culture War to others.
The full Clark story is a long and fascinating one. Believe me, I know. I was among those convinced that Clark badly needed to write memoirs. Humble to a fault, he refused. Finally, I prevailed in convincing him to let me be his biographer.
Key to convincing Clark—a process I had to do again and again—was to repeatedly impress upon him the history that he uniquely knew, and that we needed to know. For the sake of history, and of truth, and for Ronald Reagan’s legacy, I persuaded Clark that certain things needed to be told.
One such thing was a confidential offer by the French director of external intelligence, Alexandre de Marenches, to assassinate Moammar Kaddafi. Clark was there in February 1981 when de Marenches secretly asked President Reagan for U.S. support in such an endeavor. “We told him no,” said Clark. “We said we understood their [the French] feelings about the man, but we couldn’t do assassinations.” There was an executive order prohibiting the president from participating in assassinations.
What is so ironic, however, was that Clark would find himself an assassination target of Kaddafi. Clark was on the dictator’s personal hit-list even before he got to the NSC. It happened while he was at the State Department.
At State, Clark impressed Washington insiders by walking to work every morning at Foggy Bottom, sparing the government the expense of a car and a driver. Those strolls to the office were terminated, however, when Clark was notified that he had suddenly appeared atop Kaddafi’s list. It was Oliver North, at the NSC, who learned of this danger and informed Clark that he was “being watched” during his walks. At that point, Clark was ordered to start using a government limousine with a driver.
Kaddafi would successfully order the killings of a lot of innocents in the 1980s—but, mercifully, he never got Bill Clark.
I was reminded of all this in the last week.
Kaddafi, of course, finally met his demise, dying the sort of ugly, violent death at the hands of assassins that he had inflicted upon so many others.
Bill Clark, to the contrary, celebrated his 80th birthday last weekend, one of the few surviving members of that close-knit group of top Reagan advisers who took down the Soviet Union.
I called Clark to wish him a happy birthday. As usual, we talked about family, life, the Catholic faith—Clark is now a Franciscan friar—and the latest news in foreign policy. The latter, of course, meant the death of Moammar Kaddafi. I noted to Clark the irony that I was wishing him a happy birthday mere days after Kaddafi’s death, and that he survived Kaddafi. “The Judge” had outlived the dictator.
“Kaddafi never got you, Bill,” I said, with a laugh.
Clark quipped with his usual deadpan: “I guess he missed.”
The world is a better place because Kaddafi missed and Bill Clark lived. Clark has been a blessing to this country and to the Catholic faith.
A happy 80th birthday to Bill Clark. May he continue to live in peace.
Paul Kengor is professor of political science at Grove City College. His books includeThe Judge: William P. Clark, Ronald Reagan’s Top Hand (Ignatius Press) and Dupes: How America’s Adversaries Have Manipulated Progressives for a Century.