Remembering Ninth Rector Kelly Clark
The Reverend Charles Halsey “Kelly” Clark, a kind and gentle man, a respected leader, Episcopal priest, and theological educator, beloved within the St. Paul’s School community and beyond, died in Exeter, N.H., on March 11, 2019. He was 92 years old.
Born on December 2, 1926, in New York City, Kelly was the son of Martha Keck Clark and Alfred Marling Clark. He grew up in Coronado, Calif., attending the Francis Parker School in San Diego and the Thacher School in Ojai. In 1944, Kelly enlisted in the U.S. Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps V12 program at UCLA, later graduating in 1948 from Yale. He earned his M.Div. from Virginia Theological Seminary in 1951 and was ordained priest in the Diocese of New York in December of 1952. In 1953, Kelly married Priscilla, another native Californian and student at the Yale Divinity School. With Priscilla and her daughter, Pamela, the couple began a wonderful 66-year partnership. From 1953 to 1957, Kelly served as assistant chaplain at Yale, lecturer in Old and New Testaments, and director of Yale’s International Student Center. During that time, he received an M.A. in Old Testament studies from Yale in 1956.
For 20 years, from 1957 to 1977, Kelly worked for the Overseas Department of the Episcopal Church, living from 1957 to 1967 in Singapore, where he served as canon at St. Andrew’s Anglican Cathedral, as a faculty member of Trinity Theological College, and as Warden of St. Peter’s Hall. He spent an additional 10 years as the dean of St. Andrew’s Theological Seminary and dean of Trinity College, Quezon City, Philippines, where he co-founded the South East Asia Institute of Music and Liturgy. Kelly returned to the United States in 1977 to become dean of Berkeley Divinity School and an associate dean of the Yale Divinity School. In 1982, Kelly and Priscilla moved to Concord, N.H., for Kelly to begin his Rectorship at St. Paul’s. He would later share that he was drawn to the School both for its mission and for the beautiful fields and ponds that dot the campus.
As the Ninth Rector, Kelly led 10 happy, fulfilling years among the students, faculty, and families of SPS. During his tenure, Kelly oversaw a number of renovations of dormitories and classroom spaces, as well as the restoration of key buildings from the early years of the School. The construction and dedication of Ohrstrom Library in 1991 were conducted under his watch. Also of particular note were the 1988 celebrations surrounding the 100th anniversary of the Chapel of St. Peter and St. Paul. On May 12, 1988, Kelly helped dedicate the “Newest Window” to commemorate the Chapel’s centennial. Kelly and Priscilla personally checked on the window’s progress when they visited German stained-glass artist Hans Gottfried von Stockhausen in the summer of 1987. The window’s theme of education was meant to encourage students “to grow to their highest aspirations, from beginnings however small.”
Kelly also was proud to have initiated a June 1991 conference – “Institute on Values” – which drew headmasters and educators from near and far to St. Paul’s for a series of lectures and discussions about educational values. Upon his “retirement” from St. Paul’s, Kelly served as interim rector at St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church, New York City, and then as Vicar of St. John the Evangelist in Dunbarton, N.H. In 2010, Kelly and Priscilla moved to the Riverwoods Retirement Community in Exeter, N.H. Throughout his life, Kelly received several honorary degrees and served on the boards of schools and organizations, including the Thacher School, the White Mountain School, and the Yale in China Program and as chairman of the New Hampshire Humanities Council. An avid sportsman, Kelly was a champion tennis player all his life and a great horseman, including playing on the Singapore polo team. He remained connected to the St. Paul’s School community, performing too many wedding ceremonies to count, many for alumni from all over the world, who sought him out to preside over their special days.
Kelly was a gentle, kind, and beloved human being, always gracious, a true teacher, an elegant athlete, a devoted priest, and missionary of the Gospel. He had a great sense of humor. He loved his family and friends, dogs, horses, tennis, poetry, music, acting, dancing, and the beach. He loved God and was devoted to following God’s call wherever that led him, faithfully pastoring all the communities under his care. Kelly is survived by his wife, Priscilla; four children, Martha, Nathaniel, Mary, and Anne; 11 grandchildren; four great-grandchildren; and two great-great-grandchildren. He was predeceased by his daughter, Pamela.
The death of Ninth Rector Kelly Clark on March 11, 2019, at the age of 92, prompted an outpouring of memories from alumni and friends of the School. Those who knew Kelly recall his gentle nature and his devotion to God and family. In the years since his 1992 retirement from St. Paul’s, he remained connected to the School community, returning for events, such as the 2004 Baccalaureate, where he delivered the address for the graduating Sixth Form; and performing too many wedding ceremonies to count for alumni across the world.
Here we offer a tribute to Kelly, through reflections from four alumni and excerpts from that 1992 Baccalaureate address. Said one alumnus in his tribute to Kelly, “The connection we shared with Reverend Clark – distinctly felt by generations, strengthened with perspective over time, and continuously inspiring to service – also links those who mourn his passing.”
His Faith in Us Made Us Better
Jim Frates ’85
“Finally brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honorable, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report, if there be any virtue, if there be any praise, think on these things. The things which ye both learned and received and heard and saw...these things do. And the God of Peace shall be with you.”
– Philippians 4: 8-9
I can still hear these words in Kelly’s voice in the Chapel of St. Peter and St. Paul. In the years since my graduation from St. Paul’s, I have heard them many times, but no one could speak them like Kelly.
Whether you were religious or not, Kelly Clark was a person you had to respect. He was a man who lived his vocation to its fullest, like watching George Tracy teach Shakespeare or Rich Davis coach crew. For all of us in the Form of 1985 Kelly was our Rector. We came to Millville together, and I believe we all remember him and Priscilla with special esteem. His tall figure and broad shoulders created a memorable first impression, but his gentleness quickly came through. The soft hello, the quick and lasting handshake. I think his grace and presence made us all a little intimidated at first, but we came to know a man who wanted to connect, who lingered hand in hand, in the most genuine desire for human connection and warmth.
Trust. Faith. Honesty. Confidence. Fidelity. Clarity of purpose. Unconditional love. These are all qualities adolescents need to see. Kelly, in his work and his marriage, embodied and exemplified them for us. Now, 37 years on from my first fall at St. Paul’s, 22 years married, and the father of two teenagers, I understand Kelly’s appeal to us as students even more; he saw the good in all of us and his faith in us made us better. Rest In Peace, Charles Halsey Clark. You cared for your flock with all your heart and soul. And the God of peace shall be with you.
Around the Seashell Table
Annie White ’91
“This was the reason why you were brought to Narnia, that by knowing me here for a little, you may know me better there.”
– Aslan, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C. S. Lewis
In September 1987, I arrived at St. Paul’s as a Third Former. My parents and I walked the brick path to the Rectory, where new students were to meet The Reverend Kelly Clark. When my turn came, I was struck by his regality as he shook my hand through our entire exchange. That fall, my friends and I spent Saturday nights at the Rectory around the seashell coffee table, comforted by Mrs. Clark’s lemon poppy seed cake.
The vagaries of adolescence landed me in Reverend Clark’s office during Fourth Form. He counseled me with compassion, wisdom, and hope. Although our deeper relationship initially evolved from a school transgression, it was my most meaningful experience at SPS. My favorite class was his C.S. Lewis course, which I took in Sixth Form with Rosie O’Donnell, Jamie Koven, and Mrs. Clark, too. Around the Rectory fireplace, we drank Earl Grey tea and discussed Mere Christianity and The Screwtape Letters. I listened with a sense of gratitude and redemption.
The Clarks departed from SPS the year after we graduated. Our form was fortunate to come together for reunions at their new home. I had the honor of staying with them and maintaining our relationship into adulthood. Eventually, Rosie and I visited Kelly and Priscilla at their retirement community in Exeter, N.H. Again, we sat around their seashell table and shared tea. After years of hearing about their daughter, Annie, I had the privilege of meeting her at our 25th reunion in 2016. That was when I saw Kelly for the last time; back in the Rectory, where it all began. As August Heckscher wrote in A Brief History of St. Paul’s School, the Rector really was a “beloved pastor, the true shepherd of his flock.” For those of us at St. Paul’s during Kelly Clark’s stewardship, we were blessed with his divinity and grace.
My Lifelong Pastor
Marcy Chong ’91
The easiest place to recall Kelly Clark and hear his warm, steady voice is in the Chapel. My enduring memory of him took place during an ordinary morning talk, when Kelly described experiencing the presence of Jesus Christ, who appeared to him as he sat in his student apartment in New Haven, Conn. He calmly and clearly shared with us the inexplicable fact of being visited by a holy presence, which confirmed his calling to the ministry. Is there another person who could move so easily between worlds as Kelly Clark? Who else could speak in a golden California voice to a chapel full of distracted, skeptical adolescents and share something so personal and remarkable? As an undergrad, I happened to live in that same apartment building for a couple of years, and I wondered whether in another age it would have become a destination for pilgrims and miracle-seekers. When my children have asked me whether I actually believe in God, I tell them that I do believe in Kelly’s account.
My husband and I procrastinated asking Kelly to officiate our wedding at St. Margaret’s Church in Washington D.C. We weren’t sure how to go about asking him to marry us. At our first pre-Cana meeting with our minister in D.C., she introduced us to a newly ordained minister with a warm smile and a beautifully smooth voice. It turned out, she was none other than Kelly’s daughter, Martha, who resembles both Kelly and Priscilla in uncanny ways. It was not until we were standing in the chapel in front of the altar with Kelly that I understood the rite of marriage. Up until that point, it was all details and decorations. The moment I was wedded to my husband was not the moment of exchanging rings or vows, but when Kelly wrapped his stole around our hands and firmly placed his hands around ours. I can still feel the energy of his hands holding ours together.
Kelly Christened our daughter, Josephine, at his tiny church in Dunbarton, N.H., where the organ was operated by a hand pump. He gave her the gift of a metal fish and a seashell. He shared his favorite hymn, “O for a thousand tongues to sing,” which will always bring him to mind. Afterward, we spent time drinking coffee and eating Priscilla’s poppy seed cake in in the parlor. Every time we returned to St. John’s, we found fellowship with alumni and faculty friends who were faithful followers of Kelly.
Our last visit with Kelly and Priscilla was too long ago. We shared blueberry pie made from berries we had picked and scones someone else had brought them from Scotland. They were busy with a lively new dog (a golden Lab, of course) and the ups and downs of children and grandchildren. Kelly loaned us a book we never managed to return: How We Die: Reflections on Life’s Final Chapter. We left feeling nothing but gratitude for his spirit and his life.
A Connection Distinctly Felt by Generations
Jay Truesdale ’92
A distant sense of kinship with The Reverend Charles Halsey “Kelly” Clark preceded my arrival at St. Paul’s in 1990. His parents were neighbors of my great-grandparents in Coronado, Calif., he outplayed my grandfather on the tennis court during their school breaks, and he was my grandfather’s college classmate and his fellow Navy officer in the Pacific theater. After the war, they lived on opposite sides of the world, but when the topic of my schooling arose years later, my grandfather offered unequivocal advice: “You should be at St. Paul’s with Kelly.”
We first met when I arrived at the Rectory as a new Fifth Former. I had not expected the man who stood in front of me; notably tall, gracefully formal, humbly in charge. To his right was Priscilla, who whispered, barely audibly, in his ear, “That’s Chic’s grandson.” This wasn’t the first or last time Priscilla reminded Kelly about the name or background of a student, to whom he would then turn his full attention and proceed with words that conveyed the deepest care and sincerity. Those brief years at St. Paul’s were golden; at least, that’s what is seared in my memory. We were challenged and supported spiritually and intellectually, with endless opportunities to grow and explore. The Clarks remained at the center of it all: Cricket Holiday, Chapel prayers, thoughtful sermons, poppy seed cake, C.S. Lewis seminars, “Love Divine.” This was so much so that the announcement of Kelly’s retirement jolted our community, which then oriented itself around the future of SPS “after the Clarks.” Our form had the privilege of remaining somewhat aloof to the impending transition, since we were, in Kelly’s words, graduating together.
The Clarks cheerfully referred to the Form of 1992 as their own when, every five years on Anniversary Weekend, we reunited for joyous barn parties at their home on Long Pond Road. Over time, Kelly married many of us, baptized our children, and even presided at our memorial services. Several of us remained in close touch along the way, seeing him and Priscilla on Sundays in Dunbarton for services at St. John the Evangelist, whose antique pump organ once resided in the Old Chapel and lifted Kelly’s baritone voice. Hearing of Kelly’s death, formmates reached out to describe the impact he had on us:
“He was one of the most wonderful human beings I’ve had the good fortune to know. He will be missed and yet he lives on in the hearts of tens of thousands.”
“While Kelly’s voice has been in my head for 25 years, it is especially loud today”
“A mythic human being, he was…and we were all so blessed to have known him.”
“He was one of the best people I’ve ever known. He had such a saintly presence, and his warmth and kindness were such an inspiration to me.”
The connection we shared with Reverend Clark – distinctly felt by generations, strengthened with perspective over time, and continuously inspiring to service – also links those who mourn his passing. We give thanks for the life and friendship of Kelly, and for the many benefits of our affiliation with St. Paul’s under his holy stewardship. He and Priscilla made all of us a part of their beautiful family. His physical presence is deeply missed, but his legacy will remain with us forever.
Baccalaureate, June 4, 2004
On the occasion of the graduation of his grandson, Thomas Boothby ’04, Kelly Clark delivered the Baccalaureate address as he did throughout his tenure as Rector. Here, as reported in 2004 by Alumni Horae Editor Jana Brown, Kelly emphasized the potential of the graduates to make a difference, the power of Christian faith, and the important mission and history of St. Paul’s School.
Jana F. Brown
Prior to the commencement of the Form of 2004, The Reverend Charles Halsey Clark, Ninth Rector, addressed the graduates, parents, faculty, and friends at the Baccalaureate service in the Chapel of St. Peter and St. Paul. The Reverend Clark spoke of the Chapel as a “much-loved place at the heart of St. Paul’s School.” In his remarks, Mr. Clark spoke directly to the 132 graduating members of the Form of 2004. “You have done well and have every right to be pleased with yourselves,” he said.
Mr. Clark went on to acknowledge the mixed emotions swirling in the minds of the graduates, with charged anticipation for the future mingling with pain and sadness at the thought of leaving Millville behind. Mr. Clark referred in his speech to a memorial bench that rests in the woods surrounding the School. The plaque reads: “He heard the whispered secrets of those woods and waters.”
“I think you have heard them, too,” said Mr. Clark. The Ninth Rector continued by recalling his own high school graduation from California-based Thacher School on June 6, 1944. Sixty years ago, Mr. Clark and his fellow Thacher graduates awoke to then-President Dwight Eisenhower reporting that U.S. troops had landed at Normandy. Three weeks later, he and his classmates each had been inducted into one or another of the U.S. armed forces – Mr. Clark into the U.S. Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps V12 program.
“We arose on the morning of our commencement as schoolboys,” he told the Form of 2004, “we left Thacher later that day as men – or at least that’s how the world took us – and what a dark and dangerous world it was. I wish I could say the world you are entering is a safer and brighter place than it appears. I suggest that you can and must help to change the world. I can’t imagine who is better prepared to make the world better, more just, and a safer place in which to live.” Mr. Clark built to a conclusion of his remarks by explaining the theme for one of the stained glass windows – The Newest Window – installed on May 12, 1988, to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Chapel of St. Peter and St. Paul. Mr. Clark worked diligently with an artist to come up with a design fit to honor the School and its namesake.
“The artist and I spent a number of hours together here in the Chapel of St. Peter and St. Paul and elsewhere on the grounds of the School,” Mr. Clark said. “We both wanted to create something that would portray the genius of a school bearing the name of the great Apostle and teacher, St. Paul, and one that would reveal the true and abiding purpose of its curriculum. So we came to an agreement that the window would contain two appropriate scenes – the conversion of the Apostle, himself, somehow linked with a depiction of the Parable of the Sower with his seeds and soils.”
“‘To you has been given the knowledge of the Secrets of the Kingdom of God,’” Mr. Clark said. “Those are the words that appear in the window above the image of the Sower who went out to sow. And I want you to know that those words are for you, candidates for the diploma of St. Paul’s School.” Mr. Clark asked the graduates to consider the connection between those words of Jesus and the words Henry Augustus Coit chose as the School’s very first mission statement, “Let us learn those things on earth the knowledge of which continues in heaven.”
“Take with you the secrets on which the School was founded to secure for you,” he urged the Sixth Form of 2004. “Faith, hope, love, love divine (all loves excelling) – these are the seeds of the anticipated harvest sown in this place, where your hearts as well as your brains have gone to school.”