Reuben Grove Clark Jr.

Reuben Grove

Clark Jr.

Reuben Grove Clark Jr., a retired Washington lawyer who lived for 25 years in North Garden, Virginia, and advocated for the preservation of farmland and forests in Central Virginia, died peacefully Wednesday at The Hospice of The Piedmont. He was 89. He was born on January 30, 1923, in Savannah, Georgia to Katharine Lee Judkins Clark and Reuben Grove Clark. He was the grandson of Captain Reuben Clark, CSA, Company I, 59th Tennessee Mounted Infantry.

He attended Woodberry Forest School in Orange, Virginia, and then Yale University where he graduated in 1944. After World War II, he attended Yale Law School where he graduated cum laude in 1948 and was an editor of The Yale Law Journal. After law school, he undertook post-graduate studies in economics at Kings College, Cambridge University, England where he met Mary Ellen Ronald, his wife of 62 years.

He served as a second lieutenant in the United States Navy on the U.S.S. Pritchett, a Fletcher-Class destroyer, and saw significant action off of Okinawa at the end of World War II. The U.S.S. Pritchett was torpedoed in the early morning of April 3, 1945, but survived that encounter. On July 29, 1945, while attending to survivors of the U.S.S. Callahan, a kamikaze victim, the U.S.S. Pritchett was also struck by a kamikaze causing extensive damage to her superstructure. Despite the damage, the U.S.S. Pritchett remained in the area to rescue remaining survivors. For its actions off Okinawa, the U.S.S. Pritchett was awarded a Navy Unit Commendation.

In the 1990s, Mr. Clark was first the treasurer and later chairman of the Charlottesville-Albemarle Board of the Piedmont Environmental Council, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the preservation of rural land and the promotion of responsible land use in Central Virginia.

Mr. Clark was also a former president of The Society of Fellows of The University of Virginia, and was a longtime supporter of The Miller Center of Public Policy. From 1969 to 1972 the Yale-educated Mr. Clark was a visiting professor at University of Virginia School of Law. At other times he also taught at the Howard University, George Washington University and Georgetown University law schools. "Reuben Clark was an outstanding lawyer, mentor and contributor to our community," said Charlottesville attorney Leigh Middleditch this week. "All of us who knew him will remain in his debt." He was a founding partner of the Washington law firm of Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering (now Wilmer Hale) where he practiced for nearly his entire professional career. His focus was on tax and business law primarily. His legal work was diverse, and according to Louis R. Cohen, today senior counsel at Wilmer Hale and a prot‚g‚ of Mr. Clark's, "Reuben was a lawyer from an earlier day who wasn't afraid of any problem and who took on whatever challenge was presented, and responded creatively." He was a nationally recognized expert in the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) New Communities Program and represented New Communities developers nationwide. As a tax lawyer, he structured the first master partnership approach to capitalize oil and gas exploration. He participated as a leading lawyer in the Penn Central/Conrail reorganization and the West-Side Highway redevelopment in New York City, among other major transactions. As head of the firm's London office from 1976 to 1979, he was also engaged in international arbitration matters and represented the Uranium Institute on nuclear power regulatory matters. In 1975, while on sabbatical, he worked for the International Monetary Fund in Nairobi, Kenya as part of a tax reform initiative in that country. In keeping with his law firm's commitment to pro bono services, Mr. Clark became a recognized expert in the urban renewal and housing area. Apart from his lawyering work with the New Communities Program, he served as a member of President Johnson's Kaiser Commission on Urban Housing. In the 1970s, he also chaired the Special Citizens Advisory Committee on Urban Renewal, a citizens and business group which, after a two year investigatory period, advised and made recommendations to the District of Columbia City Council on a number of pressing urban problems.

Mr. Clark also had a lifelong interest in advancing human and civil rights and was a founding member of the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights. Early on he held a strong belief in the enforcement of these rights, particularly after his observations of the treatment of African American sailors in the Navy. In the early 1960s he assisted the U.S. Department of Justice in Alabama by representing children who were arrested for participating in a protest march. In a 2005 oral history, Mr. Clark stated "The Orphans Court Judge threw them all into a work camp. So I and a representative of the Council of Churches met with this chap. He turned out to be a racist to his fingertips. It was extraordinary. He spent most of his time calling blacks in and around Selma terrible, terrible names. I had never really heard anybody talk like that. But the interesting thing was that he listened to us, and the kids got released and we returned home."

One of Mr. Clark's most fulfilling experiences as a citizen lawyer was his participation in the Southern African Legal Services Foundation from 1979 until his death. Together with Lloyd Cutler, Erwin Griswold, Louis Loss, and Bernard Segal, in 1979, Clark helped launch the Southern Africa Legal Services and Legal Education Project (now the Southern Africa Legal Services Foundation or SALS) in Washington, D.C., to support what would become the Legal Resources Centre (LRC) - an independent, public interest law firm in South Africa - during the height of apartheid. It was the hope of the American lawyers that the establishment of SALS and its relationship with the LRC might offer some level of protection to LRC lawyers and staff during those dangerous days. Mr. Clark served as SALS's first President from 1979 until 1990. During these early years, LRC lawyers challenged the most oppressive aspects of apartheid - including the pass laws, forced removals, and detentions - through the South African courts, creating the basis for respect for the rule of law among the most marginalized members of South African society. For that, "Reuben Clark was admired around the world, by generations of people, a towering role model for many," said Margaret H. Marshall, retired Chief Justice of the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, a South African by birth, who chairs SALS's Board of Directors. Arthur Chaskalson, a lawyer and founder of the LRC, and also a counsel to Nelson Mandela at the Rivonia Trial (in 1961) and retired Chief Justice of the South African Supreme Court, in tribute stated, "Reuben's many friends in South Africa mourn his passing. There is a Zulu expression: umuntu ngumantu ngabantu - a person is a person through other people. Reuben's life embodied this and, given his involvement with South Africa, it would be an appropriate epitaph for him. Implicit in ubuntu is respect for the inherent human dignity of all people, for fairness and justice, a concern which was central to Reuben as a man and as a lawyer."

After his retirement from Wilmer Hale in 1989, Mr. Clark moved to North Garden where with Mary Ellen he operated the family farm, Fan Mountain Farm and Vineyard. Apart from farming operations, he worked and raised funds for political candidates who supported the cause of managed growth in Central Virginia. In 1993, Mr. Clark urged Sally H. Thomas to run as a last-minute write-in candidate to the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors. She narrowly defeated the incumbent candidate and her victory launched a successful career in Albemarle County emphasizing managed growth and was one of Central Virginia's most memorable political upsets.

In the early 1990s he effectively worked with the Piedmont Environmental Council (PEC) to block Disney's planned development of a theme park adjacent to the Manassas Civil War Battlefield. His legal strategy carried the day.

In the July 3, 1994, edition of The Daily Progress, Mr. Clark, as chairman of the Charlottesville-Albemarle Board of the PEC, wrote a lengthy commentary on Albemarle County's Land Use Tax, which allows for lower tax rates for farms and rural properties. At the time the tax was being misused by some who would hold unused rural land until a time for development, while taking advantage of lower tax rate intended for farmers. Many wanted the Land Use Tax eliminated.

Mr. Clark wrote to defend the Land Use Tax as an important mechanism to preserve farmland. He argued that farmland demanded far fewer municipal services, and the tax advantage for farmers served as an important means for protecting farmland from development, and even subsidized urban and suburban homeowners. "Undeveloped rural land costs county taxpayers only about 21 cents in county services for every $1 it generates in real estate tax revenues," he wrote in The Daily Progress. "This result compares most favorably with the $1.16 in services demanded by residentially developed land for every $1 such land generates in real estate tax revenues." He concluded by urging the County to "do a better job of separating landowners who are serious about keeping their land for agricultural purposes from landowners who are simply interested in getting a tax break while they speculate in rural land." The County ultimately modified the eligibility requirements for the Land Use Tax. In September 2003, Mr. Clark teamed with Nelson County timberman and rescue squad official James W. (Jimmy) Butler, to share their views before the Albemarle County Mountain Overlay District Committee, which was working to review development standards and limits for the construction of homes on mountainsides and higher elevations in the County. They pointed out the numerous risks of building on steep and inaccessible slopes, including those risks to forest preservation and to emergency personnel required to service homeowners in remote, steep locations.

He was a lifelong member of The Society of the Cincinnati for which he served as President General from 1986 to 1989 and where he made many friends.

Mr. Clark is survived by his wife, Mary Ellen Ronald Clark, of North Garden, Virginia; Reuben G. Clark, III and his wife, Beverley, of Raleigh, North Carolina; Melissa W. Clark of Washington, D.C.; Stephen E. Clark and his wife, Virginia, of Reston, Virginia; and four grandchildren, Reuben Grove Clark IV and Katharine Rae Clark of Raleigh, North Carolina; William Mosher Clark of Blacksburg, Virginia, and James Ronald Clark of Burlington, Vermont. A graveside service and interment will occur at the St. Bonaventure Cemetery in Savannah, Georgia, to be announced at a later date.

In lieu of flowers, please make a donation in Mr. Clark's memory to The Hospice of The Piedmont, 675 Peter Jefferson Parkway, Suite 300, Charlottesville, VA 22911.


This obituary was originally published in the Daily Progress.

Published online on June 10, 2012 courtesy of Daily Progress.