Admiration of an Admiral

by Don Meyer, Ph.D. | Jun 27, 2009

"Culture is the collective behavior of the leaders." 
Admiral (Ret.) Vern Clark

For years I wanted to meet Admiral Vern Clark. I took an interest in him because of the influence his father had on me. I had just earned my Master's Degree when I was invited to join the faculty of North Central University (formerly North Central Bible College). Admiral Clark's father, E. M. Clark, was the President of NCU and it was he who signed my first faculty contract. My whole life changed when that happened. 

Over the years I had heard from numerous friends about this gifted military leader. Admiral Clark retired from the Navy in 2005 after 37 years which took him from the command of a Patrol Gunboat as a lieutenant to the Chief of Naval Operations and a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff as a four-star Admiral. 

With each responsibility he excelled and along the way earned many military decorations including four awards of the Distinguished Service Medal, three Navy Distinguished Medals, and three awards of the Legion of Merit. 

A few weeks ago I met Admiral Clark for the first time. He came to VFCC as our Commencement speaker, to address over 150 graduates just before they left to change the world. 

He began his message by referencing his life-time of experience speaking to thousands of young people. "I feel a bit like my dear old father who is living today at the age of 98," he said. "My mother, slightly younger has been trying to get them to move to Maranatha Village, a retirement community. My 98 year old father refuses. He simply doesn't want to live around all of those old people. Well, while not as senior as my father, I feel the same." 

As he told that story, we all knew we would enjoy this man. The class of 2009 had to feel good when he continued, "I like being around your generation. I've spent my life around the likes of you, and I like it." 

If Admiral Clark represents anything it is leadership. His life models it. It oozes out of his pores. His very eyes sparkle with it. He quoted Max DePree who said, "The most important task of the leader is to define reality." Few could do it better than Admiral Clark. 

If you doubt my appraisal, you may want to pick up Bob Woodward's book State of Denial. Woodward gives the reader a clear glimpse into Admiral Clark's reputation as an ethical leader. His character has always been impeccable. 

I wish you could have seen our graduates with their families and friends, especially the military veterans, who sought him out after the Commencement ceremony for pictures and conversation. We will always remember his visit. 

As he and his wife, Connie, visited with us over dinner, he shared more stories from his amazing journey. During his message and then with us we heard about his deep personal faith in God. He was in his office at the Pentagon on 9/11 as well as the day the Columbine tragedy occurred. Without apology, he credited God's help as he navigated those awful days. 

Evie and I both smiled as he told us about "The Spouse Rule" between him and Connie. It goes like this, "Whatever idea comes out, at least embrace it for 30 seconds." We were reminded of a VFCC alumnus, John Wood, who recently told us, "I never heard the voice of God audibly until I got married." I think John Wood and Admiral Clark would like each other. 

Although Admiral Clark first heard it from Gordon England, the Secretary of the Navy, the statement originally made by Winston Churchill, he takes as one of the themes of his life, "You make a living by what you get; you make a life by what you give." 

Thank you, Admiral Clark, for being the kind of leader we all can admire. 

Think about it.

Dr. Don Meyer is President of 
Valley Forge Christian College, Phoenixville, PA 
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