CorrectionHistory.Org regular, occasional and first-time visitors:
In these 15 years of having the privilege to serve as the site's webmaster, I believe this may be the first and only time that I have ever addressed you directly with an extended personal message, using the first person singular.
I cannot do otherwise, given the occasion -- the first anniversary of Austin M. Clarke's passing.
When we first collaborated in starting the New York Correction History Society in 1999, Austin was the NYS Department of Correctional Services staffer who wrote its history; I, the NYC Department of Correction staffer who wrote its history.
We recognized we both valued for its own sake what our separate researches uncovered, whereas the respective agencies we served judged its value, as all government agencies tend to do, for its utilitarian potential -- building personnel morale, strengthening solidarity among staff, instilling a sense of mission continuity, and enhancing of public image. These worthy interests figure into any government department's telling the story of its past.
As writers of that history, we two -- only partly in self-mocking humor -- saw our role as akin to "keepers of the flame." We sought to tell the story as fully and accurately as would insure its truth successfully navigating the rocky though legitimate interest parameters of the governmental communication media for whom we wrote.
In a way, I owe thanks to former NYC Correction Commissioners Michael P. Jacobson and Bernard B. Kerik and former NYS Correctional Services Commissioner Glenn S. Goord for making possible the opportunity of my meeting and getting to know Austin.
Some worried about possible use of NYCHS to promote a hidden agenda. Austin indicated that early-on he made clear back at his shop that this downstater's only agenda was promoting New York correction history as a whole.
Both he and I recognized what anyone seriously studying the subject must realize -- that the history of NYS Correction cannot be adequately told without frequent and extensive reference to NYC correction history, and vice versa.
His agency managers' caution and desire to get a "read" on me were understandable, given the context. Yet Austin was uncomfortable with that aspect of his assignment and, in disclosing it to me, he probably had violated some sort of rule governing such assignments. But he also had laid the foundation stone of our decade-and-a-half friendship: trust.
Not that he displayed discomfort in actually delivering public remarks. His spoken words exhibited the same unforced grace, wry wit, keen knowledge and unpretentious intelligence as evident in his written word.
Rather it was his being cast into the public spotlight behind a microphone that went against his grain, grated on his passionate personal preference to remain a private person. He had no wish for a public persona. How he wound up in his agency's public affairs office, where the public spotlight is constantly sweeping like a prison yard's searchlight, is one of those accidental anomalies so rife in the human comedy.
Nevertheless, when the occasion required him to speak publicly, as was the case at the formal organizational (charter) meeting of NYCHS Tuesday, July 13th, 1999, he performed the task with his usual aplomb.
The history authors for NY's two largest correctional agencies -- Austin and I -- presided at the business portion of that meeting; he as temporary secretary and I as temporary chairman.
Together we implemented the parliamentary procedures required for adopting resolutions enabling the society to emerge as an official entity.
Two months later -- Sept. 17th 1999, to be precise -- Austin and I were again called upon to make some brief public remarks.
It was a Friday, the day after Hurricane Floyd. Extremely heavy winds whipped around the multi-columned State Education Building in Albany where the Board of Regents held the meeting at which it granted NYCHS' petition for a provisional charter.
Regent Harold Levy, who presided, noted that our attendance despite Hurricane Floyd "demonstrated strong commitment" for the society and invited any comment we might wish to make.
We thanked the committee for its courtesy and hospitality, adding that the chartering action by the board had, in a sense, been more than 300 years in making, a reference to how long Correction -- in one form or another -- has been part of the New York public safety scene.
Once he brought to our lunch his son, Colin, and once his wife, Noreen, accompanied him to dinner with me.
When in advance of attending a history conference at SUNY Albany in November 2013, I called to arrange breaking bread again with Austin, I learned he had passed away months earlier.
He actually had been a very proficient amateur photographer in the pre-digital era of film rolls and stripes of negatives. I believe I provided him with his first introduction to digital picture taking.
Here's how three guys -- David Palmquist, then Regents chartering director who had helped us with the process, Austin and I -- got into one picture "back in the day."
My NYC DOC digital camera (one of the first digital point&shoots made for retail market) had no timer and no preview/review screen on back.
Also there was no fourth person available on that windy street to take the picture.
First, I took a picture of David and Austin.
I asked Austin to come, hold the camera and stand exactly where I had stood in taking David and his picture.
Then I went over to David and stood on the other side of him, not where Austin had stood.
Once in position, I asked Austin to snap the picture.
Austin was pleased with the result of this three-step photo dance, but even more delighted in contemplating the prospect of a whole new technology to master in order that he might create amazing photo art.
Over a period of many years, Austin and I exchanged dozens of emails about digital camera and PhotoShop techniques.
He absorbed knowledge like a sponge absorbs water. Of all the many outstanding people I have met during my careers as journalist, government spokesman, and aspiring historian, Austin ranks as the most intelligent and the most knowledgeable. Both.
He didn't lack drive and wasn't lazy.
Rather he refused to be driven in his life but worked hard at living it on his terms, pursuing what interested him. And his was an eclectic, encyclopedic mind, interested in almost everything.
People speak of that rare person who is comfortable in his own skin, who feels no need to impress others in order to be at ease within himself. In any gathering, Austin always counted as an Alpha adult in the room. Not his junior, still I tended to defer to him as though my senior. That's because he so consistently proved right on issues of information or about the way to proceed in dealing with government bureaucracy and the real world beyond it.
Austin MacCormick Clarke was the maternal grandson of famed penologist Austin H. MacCormick, who is credited as the Father of Correctional Education in America, served as NYC's Correction Commissioner under Mayor LaGuardia, and later led the Osborne Association, a major force for prison reform in NY.
Perhaps this was a significant factor in Austin M. developing disdain for the public spotlight generally. He grew up knowing the face of fame often hides a hollowness behind the public mask. Austin strove for the genuine in life, and in so striving, came to embody it, an achievement which history will not record. But for Austin, who would have given a knowing grin at history's silence on this point, that would not have mattered.
--Thomas C. McCarthy
This month (April 2014) he would have turned 72 years old.
Austin was quite a unique man, a "quintessential renaissance man" was how he was once described to me. And that, definitely, was a perfect description.
He was intelligent, charming, had a great sense of humor, very witty, and just a decent guy to all.
I marveled at the way in which he was so good at teaching himself things.
He taught himself the Russian alphabet prior to us going to Russia to adopt Sophia.
He even learned how to play the flute.
Then, of course, there was golf.
I can't say much about his golfing ability. But I do know he loved the sport. It was on the TV much of the time. I even enjoyed watching "The Masters" myself, on television.
I hope to put a Facebook 'scrapbook' together about Austin, to share with my friends, this chapter of my life, a chapter so filled with great memories, fondness, happiness mixed with some unhappiness, and love. I hope my children will be pleased.
--Noreen V. Clarke
Austin started his DOCCS career in 1972 and worked in multiple Central Office locations before retiring in 2002.
Most recently, he worked for several years in the Public Information office where he produced the DOCS/TODAY facility history profiles.
Arrangements are as follows:
Thursday, July 25, 2013 at 7 p.m. at New Comer Cannon Funeral Home, 343 New Karner Road, Colonie (Route 155, south of Central Avenue).
Calling hours will be Thursday from 5 to 8 p.m. at the funeral home.
Interment will be private at the convenience of the family.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests that contributions be made to Purrfect Companions, Inc., 501 Second Ave., Albany, NY 12206.
To leave a special message for the family online, visit NewcomerAlbany.com.
Please share this with staff.
--Text provided by Linda Foglia, spokeswoman for
Austin M. Clarke, 71, passed away on Friday, July 19, 2013. Born in New York City, he was the son of the late Albert and Joan Clarke Jr.
Austin was a graduate of the State University of New York at Albany. He worked for New York State Department of Corrections, retiring in 2002. After his retirement, Austin was a bus driver for the Guilderland school district.
Austin is survived by his wife, Noreen V. Clarke, and his children, Colin F. and Sophia L. Clarke.
A celebration of life will be held on Thursday, July 25, 2013 at 7 p.m. at New Comer Cannon Funeral Home, 343 New Karner Road, Colonie (Route 155, south of Central Avenue). Calling hours will be Thursday from 5 to 8 p.m. at the funeral home. Interment will be private at the convenience of the family.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests that contributions be made to Purrfect Companions, Inc., 501 Second Ave., Albany, NY 12206. To leave a special message for the family online, visit NewcomerAlbany.com.
--Albany Times Union, July 23, 2013