PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Former Palm Beach County Tax Collector John K. Clark, 73, died on Oct. 8,2008, six weeks after the last of several strokes he had suffered over a decade. Friends and colleagues, including public officials who sometimes tangled with Clark, are mourning the man they call the "ultimate public servant," a larger-than-life character who was as devoted to his job as he was to his family.
Clark was appointed Palm Beach County Tax Collector in October 1991 by Governor Lawton Chiles, and was subsequently elected to four additional terms. Prior to 1991, he served 12 years as Director of Administrative Services for the Tax Collector's office, where he was credited with introducing a number of management improvements. In 2006, he retired after 27 years of service because of his declining health.
While Tax Collector, Clark served on the Florida Tax Collectors Association Board of Directors and was Chairman of the Legislative Committee, in addition to serving on the Department of Motor Vehicles Committee. He also served on the Palm Beach County Charter Advisory Council and was a member of the Forum Club of the Palm Beaches.
Clark's focus as Tax Collector was serving the public and operating efficiently to save taxpayers money and time. During his first year in office, he formed a committee to gather from employees office motto suggestions that best described the office's purpose. He chose, "We work with you - for you," submitted by employee Ann Valente. In a letter to his staff, to whom he fondly referred as his "troops," Clark said, "The spirit of the motto is what we are about - working with and for the people who pay us. I hope you all will support and promote this attitude of public service."
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John K., as he was often called, was a straight-talking man, dedicated to his country, his community, and his role as steward of citizens' tax dollars. Clark endeared himself to taxpayers and to voters, with his quick wit, delivered in his characteristic Southern twang. At the same time, he was a stern task master, well-known for his meticulous attention to detail. He was not afraid to disagree with other public officials or to fight for what he believed was right - but it was never personal. Not surprisingly, Clark wanted his epitaph to be, "I told you so."
Before moving to Palm Beach County, Clark had a distinguished 26-year career in the United States Air Force, retiring with the rank of Captain in 1979. After enlisting in 1953, he moved up through the ranks in a variety of operational and supervisory jobs in the Air Defense, Aircraft Control and Warning Career fields. Overseas tours of duty included Korea, Iceland and Germany.
Clark was commissioned in June 1969 after completing Air Force Training School as a Distinguished Graduate and Vice Commander of the Officer Training Wing. Among his personnel and management positions were Chief of the Education Programs Branch at the Headquarters Air Force Systems Command (Washington, D.C.), Chief of the Base Personnel Office at Brooks Air Force Base (Texas) and Chief of the Air Force Personnel Officer School at Keesler Air Force Base (Mississippi). While in Washington, D.C., he was named Air Force Systems Command's Personnel Manager of the Year.
Born and raised in York, S.C., John Kirkpatrick Clark was the son of William Mason Clark and Lillian Kirkpatrick Clark. After graduating from York High School, Class of 1953, which he held in high regard, he earned a Bachelor of General Studies degree from the University of Nebraska, with a concentration in business and management, while also pursuing his love of English literature and history. He also attended the University of Maryland and the United States Air Force Institute.
A devoted husband, father, brother and friend, John K. is survived by his wife of 52 years, Bobbie McBane Clark; his four daughters, Teresa (Jeff) Deason of Fresno, Calif., Kim Clark-Idoux of Cypress, Texas, Judith Clark of Bedford, Texas and Susan (Mark) Elhilow of West Palm Beach, Fla.; his five grandchildren, Nicole Deason, Ryan Deason, Gary Idoux, Madeline Elhilow and Emily Elhilow; and his sister, Joan (Paul) Netherwood of Joppa, Md.
At Clark's request, services to celebrate his life will be held privately at his home.
In lieu of flowers, the family has established a fund for Clark's long-time caregiver, who for seven years served as Clark's "left side" after his stroke. Contributions to Nahoum Jean-Baptiste may be sent c/o Mark Elhilow, P.O. Box 3505, West Palm Beach, FL 33402-3505.
Quattlebaum Funeral & Cremation Services is in charge of arrangements.