Editorial: In Memoriam, Charlie Clark

Charlie Clark, pictured with his latest book, “The Life and Times of the Falls Church News-Press.” (News-Press photo)

We at the News-Press remain in acute mourning over the loss of our cherished colleague and dear friend, Charlie Clark, who died on Nov. 15 last week after a short but brutally aggressive brain illness. He was 70.

It was only a few weeks before he was struck that Charlie’s latest book, the definitive and meticulously researched “The Life and Times of the Falls Church News-Press,” came off the presses and arrived in this world.

At the end of a long and storied career in Washington, D.C. journalism, a particular challenge in itself (see his obituary, elsewhere this edition), Clark made himself available to the News-Press, picking up where his predecessor in the job, Richard Barton,  left off to pen a weekly “Our Man in Arlington” column almost every week for more than a decade, adding in special news stories on important events in Arlington, not the least of which was the ongoing fight over zoning to accommodate the housing shortages’ “missing middle.”

Charlie was a true journalism professional, applying all the best standards of the calling to his work, perfected over a lifetime of toil. But like most in this profession, he was also uniquely a person in the process, never far from a full-throated laugh, an ability to catch an irony in a situation and a sustaining cheerfulness that was his particular gift. Journalists are not the dark, sinister carriers of evil the way Trump has tried to portray us. We tend rather to be often self-deprecating but tenacious lamplighters who are accustomed to subordinating ourselves to the truths about which we are writing, and to that end, seeking the highest standards of authenticity. There is a reason journalists, themselves, are responsible for calling their premiere social event of the season, the annual White House Correspondents Dinner, a “nerd prom.” I don’t like the phrase, even if only because it is too self-effacing, in my view, given the indispensable role that journalism plays in the fight to preserve democracy. But it does reflect humility in the face of the awesome responsibility of telling the truth in ways that the general public can handle, which is our collective special calling.

There has been no one in my experience better suited to own the label, “journalist,” than Charlie Clark. When he decided to do what turned out to be his last book, The Life and Times of the Falls Church News-Press, he went all in, examining every single issue of the paper since its inception in 1991 and interviewing scores of people in and around the paper. It was an awesome effort, and we couldn’t be more pleased with the outcome.

What he produced is more than a history of one local newspaper or one small community. It is a primer suitable for educating countless future generations on what a local newspaper is all about. Bravo on a truly exemplary life and work, Mr. Clark! Through your accomplishments, you remain with us.

–Nicholas F. Benton