The two sides of Austin -- serious at times, fun-loving when the opportunity arose.

DOCS partner
in founding NYCHS.

Austin M. Clarke
April 15, 1942 - July 19, 2013

To our 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.


Austin Clarke, right, chats with then
NYC Probation Commissioner Raul Russi, left, as
webmaster Tom McCarthy looks on prior to the
start of the formal organizational meeting to
launch NYCHS in 1999 at The Tombs.
(Photo by C.O. Ralph Smith)
For Austin and I regarded ourselves as fellow conspirators in perpetrating New York Correction History. The pursuit of history on its own terms is an activity inherently subversive (or potentially so) to whatever may be the official narrative of any given administration of any government at any given time.

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.


As Secretary of formal organizational
meeting to launch NYCHS in 1999,
Austin Clarke reads the motion to
establishing the history society.
(Photo by C.O. Ralph Smith)
We were practicing historiographers who, through our digging into the Past, soon discovered ourselves to be kindred spirits in the then Present.

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.


Austin receives a DOCS award from then
Commissioner Thomas A. Coughlin.
That mutual recognition became the basis of a bond not adequately communicated by the term friendship, which we also had as well for a decade and a half despite the 150 miles separating Albany and New York City. On July 19th, 2013, Death imposed an even greater distance. But the bond remains unbroken.

*** *** ***

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.

  • Jacobson, who circa 1997 approved my request for permission to canvass within NYC DOC and among other NYC correctional agencies, public and private, for support in establishing a NYC Correction History Society;

  • Kerik, who circa 1998 approved my recommendation that the scope of the proposed society be broadened to include all such agencies within the state and therefore that the outreach effort to build support for such an society be correspondingly widened.

  • Goord, who circa 1999 agreed to NYS DOCS involvement in establishing a state-wide New York Correction History Society (NYCHS) and who approved designation of Austin as that agency's liaison with me in NYCHS' establishment and operation.


Austin and his wife, Noreen, at their wedding reception.
After we had worked together a short while preparing the launch of NYCHS, Austin intimated to me that part of his liaison assignment, at least in the minds of some up the chain of command at his agency, was to keep a wary eye on that "downstater" McCarthy, an unknown entity to them at the time.

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.

Colin's first formal photo with beaming parents.

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.

*** *** ***


An Austin photo of daughter Sophia, soon after
adoption from Russia, as she tests how favorite
toy slides on her new home's kitchen floor.
Another aspect of his NYCHS liaison assignment also made him uncomfortable: its very occasionally calling upon him to speak publicly.

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.


Austin photo of Sophia & Colin in pre-teen years.
Austin, who majored in English Literature at college, was the writer par excellence. His was a vocation very congenial to those personalities rather content to live in their own real world of person-to-person than trod the public stage playing to audiences and constituencies with amorphous identities.

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.


Austin's children a bit older at the computer.
The historic gathering took place in the Manhattan Detention Complex, better known as The Tombs, situated at White and Centre streets, a site that has been occupied by a series of jails dating back before the Civil War.

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.


A collaborative photo by Austin and me.
He sent me the original of Sophia trying
to catch snow flakes on her tongue. I
wanted to help her out, so I digitally
added a snow flake just above her head
and in reach for her to catch.
Once Austin saw that PhotoShop trick
there was no stopping him.
He zoomed ahead experimenting
with all sorts of PhotoShop
tools I didn't even know were there.
Since each enabling resolution had passed without opposition, Austin as meeting secretary "cast" the single vote necessary for adoption.

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.

*** *** ***

This Austin photo of his daughter, a bit
older than in her days as a snow flake catcher
but still a fan of the Sunday comics, shows his
experimenting with the play of sunlight
in the otherwise shadowed room.
Even after we had both retired from our respective correctional agencies, we maintained contact. Whenever a New York history conference I was attending was in or near the Albany region, I'd call and we'd arrange to have lunch or dinner together.

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.


An Austin photo of his son, Colin, a classical pianist
on stage for a students concert.
Thus this July 19th, the first anniversary of his death, presents the first appropriate occasion for posting this memorial salute on the web site launched by the history society which he and I launched in 1999.

*** *** ***
Austin and I shared more than our usually separate but sometimes joint pursuit of correction history. We also were both avid digital camera buffs.

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.


Colin slowed his hectic collegian/musician pace
long enough for a contemporary snapshot.
This came a matter of minutes after the Regents formally granted NYCHS its charter.

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.


Pre-Timer Selfie Step 1: I take picture of
chartering director David Palmquist, left, and Austin.
Then I asked David to hold the exact pose and not to move an inch.

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.


Pre-Timer Selfie Step 2: Austin takes picture of
Palmquist, now on the right, and me.
When back home and at my PC, I took the two images into PhotoShop and combined them.

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.


Pre-Timer Selfie Step 3: Once home, I use
PhotoShop to splice the two photos together.
Our emails often contained photos we had taken. We even arranged to acquire identical make and model number cameras so our technical references would require no translations, equivalencies and approximations to overcome working with different equipment. Our digital photographic transmissions began with me showing him how and rapidly became him showing me how, as my once-pupil soon surpassed me, his once "teacher."

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.


The Austin cat in the formal black and white tux
is Wendell, left. His younger companion,
trying to think himself into a coat like
a leopard or lion or tiger, is Milo, right.
Yet he also was the least ambitious personally and the least interested in pushing himself forward by putting that prodigious brain of his on display.

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.


This photo evidences the fact that Austin understood
the ordinary laws of gravity do not apply to cats in general,
and to kittens in particular, especially when one of the
latter is scampering away from a human wanting to attend
to a scratch under the feline's eye. You and I might find
proceeding at the angle this kitten adopted a bit difficult.
For Clarke to have traded on his kinship with that towering figure in American correction history would have been so easy: study his grandfather's fascinating career, write learned essays and scholarly volumes about its various twists and turns, and feature his own full name in the byline. Instead, Austin used only the middle initial "M" and avoided mention of his grandfather. One gained the sense that Austin had experienced little contact with the famous forebear, for whom he had a marked disinterest, if not distaste. Apparently Austin H. had not much maintained ties with Austin M.'s branch of the family. So the grandson was in little awe of the grandfather, despite the latter's celebrity status.

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

*** *** ***

Words from Austin's Widow:


Austin with a grin of satisfaction at a gorgeous day for golf.
Austin's life was cut short due to Cancer. It was sudden. He left behind great friends, (and maybe a few enemies), two wonderful children, and of course, me, his wife.

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.


Austin with some golf buddies at the Western Turnpike
Country Club.
He liked photography; and played around with it for the last twenty years to the point where he could have done it professionally.

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.


Austin and fellow golfer take a break.
I am quite sure he is missed by many who knew him.

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

*** *** ***

NYS DOCCS Notice to All Commands:


Austin loved cats and, to the extent they allowed
themselves to have feelings of affection for
members of an inferior species, cats loved Austin.
So they arranged to show up in the oddest places
in order for him to practice his photographing them.
Like perching on a window sill, between the blinds
and the pane packed on the outside high with snow.
Austin was having fun with the people who might
look at this photo. They might think they were
looking at a black and white picture but then
realize the cat's eyes looking back at them glow yellow.
We regret to inform you of the July 19th [2013] death of retired Central Office employee Austin Clarke, 71.

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

Please share this with staff.

--Text provided by Linda Foglia, spokeswoman for
NYS Department of Corrections and Community Supervision

*** *** ***

Times Union Obituary:

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.


Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night
stayed avid amateur (professional grade) photographer
Austin Clarke from capturing an interesting scene with
his camera as testifies this picture of him taking a
picture of SUNY Albany during a snow storm.
Austin was an accomplished photographer. He enjoyed playing golf with his friends at the Western Turnpike Country Club.

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

--Albany Times Union, July 23, 2013