Joseph F. Clark, 82, of Drexel Hill, a former copy boy, reporter, and “My Hometown” columnist, at the Daily News, died Wednesday, Feb. 3, of prostate cancer at home.
While other writers of his era were known for their big personalities and expansive writing styles, Mr. Clark is remembered by former colleagues and family as humble, loyal, and drawn to the stories of the “everyman.”
“He never seemed to be trying to make himself more interesting, maybe because he was too busy paying attention to what made other people interesting, particularly the ones he was writing about,” said Ellen Gray, a longtime staffer at the Daily News and Inquirer.
“From the janitor to the supermarket worker to the CEO, he made everyone feel like they were his best friend,” said his son, Matt Clark.
A paper delivery boy for the Philadelphia Bulletin growing up in Southwest Philadelphia, Mr. Clark lucked into a job at the Daily News in 1956, and worked there until 2000 as a reporter and columnist. His column, “My Hometown,” appeared nearly every Tuesday in the Daily News in 1999 and 2000, and Mr. Clark touched on topics ranging from a nun with hatred in her heart, to the murder of a pizza delivery man, to a one-legged bowler from Lawncrest.
A police reporter as a young journalist in the 1960s, he found what his colleagues said was his true voice when he became a features writer later in his career. His writing was understated, concise, and descriptive, and he wrote as much about people’s personalities as their achievements.
In 2000, Mr. Clark wrote this about a local musician:
“When it comes to tats, teas and orchids, master violinist Davyd Booth is second fiddle to no one. At last count, Booth had 80 tattoos, 250 varieties of teas and somewhere around 7,000 orchids. Put ‘em all together and you have one sweet-smelling, tattooed tea drinker who can play the violin with the best of them.”
In 1998, he wrote about a 65-year-old long jumper:
“Jan Birks had it all figured out. She’d set up a rake on the floor at one end of the bed, a broom at the other. Then she’d get a board, carefully place it atop the rake and broom and have … a high jump bar. The mattress would be her landing pit. Then she’d go out in the hall, run into the bedroom, push off and jump over the bar. … But there was one thing this perky grandmother didn’t count on. She misjudged the bounce.”
Mr. Clark was born on July 19, 1938, and graduated from West Catholic High School in 1954. He got a job as a copy boy at the Daily News after an interview for work cleaning oil tanks fell through. He met Margie Kelly on the trolley, commented on her lipstick, and they got married and raised six children in Southwest Philadelphia and Drexel Hill over the next 56 years. She died in 2013.
Mr. Clark told his family that his favorite assignments at the Daily News were about Pope Paul VI in 1977, the Eagles playing the Oakland Raiders in Super Bowl XV in 1981, and the closing of the Bulletin in 1982. His favorite interviews were with basketball coach Speedy Morris, and former player, broadcaster, and basketball advocate Sonny Hill.
“I swear, if Joe Clark cut himself shaving, newspaper ink would flow from his veins,” said Ed Barkowitz, a longtime Daily News and Inquirer staff writer.
At home, Mr. Clark liked to paint wooden objects with personalized designs and messages — he called them his “creations” — and give them to friends and family as gifts. A proud Irish Catholic, he went to church every day, helped organize many St. Patrick’s Day parades, delivered meals to the homebound, and revered former Eagles coach Dick Vermeil.
He coached his sons in Little League, and went to nearly every grade-school football practice to watch his youngest son, Kevin. Then they rode home together on their bikes.
In addition to his sons Kevin and Matt, Mr. Clark’s is survived by sons Joseph, Richard, and Stephen; daughter Margaret; 12 grandchildren; six great-grandchildren, and other relatives. A brother died earlier.
A service was held Monday, Feb. 8.
Donations in his name may be made to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, 200 Vesey St., 28th Floor, New York, N.Y. 10281.