, Salem, MA

November 26, 2012

Clark remembered for his love of history, government


---- — Everyone’s life has a story. In “Lives,” we tell some of those stories about North Shore people who have died recently.

TOPSFIELD — It’s a testament to attorney and former Selectman Stephen Clark’s fair-mindedness that he was able to form a lasting friendship with attorney Bob Holloway, a Democrat whose beliefs were “worlds apart” from Clark’s Republican ones.

What was even more interesting, Holloway said, was their bond formed over a disagreement.

“He treated everyone the same way,” Holloway said about Clark, who died after a two-year struggle with multiple myeloma, a cancer of the plasma cells of the bone marrow, on Nov. 17. He was 61. Clark was known for his fondness for history and genealogy, and his government and public service.

“It’s hard to believe he’s gone, because that’s way too young,” said Holloway, a former member of the Masconomet Regional School Committee who wound up in a thoughtful exchange with Clark over the drug and alcohol policy that the regional school board had approved around 1990. At the time, the two men had daughters in seventh grade at the school.

“He didn’t want me to sign it because it was a zero-tolerance policy,” recalls Clark’s daughter, Amelia Mattson, now 33, about her father’s concerns. While Holloway and Clark did not agree on the policy, the exchange left Holloway with a feeling of respect for Clark.

“We did so in a very agreeable manner,” Holloway said of his disagreement with Clark, “and that’s the way Steve was. He was a good guy, very thoughtful.” The two eventually served on some town committees together, including the Town Management Committee, which reshaped Topsfield’s government, expanding the Board of Selectmen from three to five members and creating the post of town administrator, among other reforms.

“It’s a tragic loss for all of his acquaintances and friends who knew him,” said Nancy Luther, a Republican activist who said Clark was very active, too.

“I’ll miss discussing politics with him,” said Luther, the former executive director of the Governor’s Highway Safety Bureau.

Holloway and Clark not only became friends, they became colleagues. Clark had left the law firm he founded in Cambridge, then went to practice in-house for a client, Holloway said. He then went into private practice at MacLean Holloway Doherty Ardiff & Morse of Peabody, where Holloway is president.

Clark, who earned a law degree from Suffolk University Law School after earning a master’s at George Washington University and a bachelor’s at Boston University, maintained good relations with his former law firm and the client he used to work for, Holloway said.

Holloway said he was fortunate to have worked with Clark, who he said was a big fan of the group Steely Dan. Holloway would play piano at gigs from time to time, and “Steve was one of those guys who would always show up.”

Clark continued to practice real estate law even while cancer left him feeling tired. Holloway said Clark was “tough as nails.” His health began to deteriorate in the past couple of months, however.

“He didn’t complain,” Holloway said. “You would have to drag it out of him.”

Clark was especially fond of his family, Holloway said, including his wife of 38 years, Wendy; his daughter, Mattson; his son, Henry, 30; and their spouses. Clark has two grandchildren, and Mattson said she is due with a daughter in January. Her father got to feel the baby kick.

“His son Henry worked at the White House for a time,” Holloway said, “and Steve was very proud of that and rightly so.” Henry has worked for the National Security Council.

Clark was also an avid tennis player and played for a good Lexington High School basketball team growing up.

Politically, Clark first served on the Topsfield Board of Selectmen from 1996 to 2002.

In 2003, he ran a hotly contested state representative race in the 13th Essex District against entrenched Democrat Ted Speliotis.

“I’m sorry for his passing,” Speliotis said. “He was the epitome of class and dignity in government. I will sorely miss our conversations. ... He always wanted to do the right thing.” Speliotis said Clark always focused on the issues during the campaign.

In 2006, Clark, who was then serving as town moderator, won a two-year seat back on the Board of Selectmen. He wanted to see those government reforms through. He helped hire a new town administrator before stepping down from the board after his term expired.

Those who worked with him said he approached town government with a passion because he loved the town and wanted to do all he could to make it a better place to live. One of the major projects while he was a selectman was the closing of the town’s landfill and the creation of Pye Brook Park.

“He certainly will be missed,” said Selectman Dick Gandt. “He left his mark on town government.”

Mattson said her father believed “in doing what’s right and following the rules, and not cutting corners in any way,” a belief that he took with his dealings with town government.

“Steve believed that one of the most important responsibilities of the Board of Selectmen is to recruit talented and dedicated individuals to serve on town boards and committees,” Selectman Martha Morrison said. “He helped grow a corps of citizens to participate in town government, and he supported his recruits always as an adviser, mentor and friend. This is one of his lasting legacies to the town of Topsfield.”

Morrison said Clark loved studying about American history and the founding of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, and he was a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution. He had a keen interest in tracing his family’s genealogy.

“He basically found out all of our friends in town were 15th cousins,” said Mattson, who said her father’s computer program traces thousands of people as ancestors.

Morrison said it was fitting that Clark not only served as the Topsfield town moderator, but also as moderator of the iconic Congregational Church of Topsfield. It was from this type of church government that the open Town Meeting form of government grew. The post was another way Clark kept connected to the past.

In addition to serving on the Planning Board and being a selectman, one of his favorite positions in town was that of fence viewer, a Colonial-era position that mediated fence disputes among farmers. The fence viewer post linked Clark with the town’s early settlement days, Morrison said.

In recent years, Clark moved to Middleton, then moved back to town. As soon as he did so, Morrison moved to reappoint him to the vacant fence viewer position.

“We have been enriched by his spirit, his dedication, his thoughtful leadership, and his love of people and of community,” Morrison said.

A memorial service was held yesterday in the Congregational Church of Topsfield, the same church where he served as moderator.

Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673, by email at or on Twitter at @DanverSalemNews.