Supreme Court Justice Tom C. Clark: A Life of Service

By Mimi Clark Gronlund | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 25
A Life Well Lived

The best man I have ever known.

Ramsey Clark, June 1977

WHAT DROVE TOM CLARK? Certainly not money. If wealth had been a goal, he would have left government service and returned to Dallas, where his two brothers in private law practices were significantly wealthier than he. Instead, he remained in public service, and even after reaching an age when he could have enjoyed a leisurely life, he chose to work as hard as ever despite deteriorating health. Ramsey described his motivation as coming from the belief that “the true joy of life is being exhausted in a cause you yourself deem mighty.”1 Alice O’Donnell, who knew him well after serving as his secretary for more than twenty-five years, gave her perspective: “During his entire federal career he tried to convince his associates… that their real rewards would come from a tremendous satisfaction a Government servant receives from a job well done; from knowing that a wrong has been made right; that our country is better because of what is done in Government offices; and that no amount of money can bring the same satisfaction.”2

He persevered, but the demands of his work were clearly taking a toll. The greatest concern was his heart. Fibrillations—rapid and irregular heartbeats—required medications that produced side effects and had to be adjusted frequently. He was thin, yet in the fall of 1976, doctors told him to lose weight. Mother protested, but he obeyed the doctors, as he usually did. We were all concerned, and even friends and colleagues were urging him to cut back on his workload. Chief Justice Warren Burger jokingly threatened to deny him any more federal-court duties. While he assured Burger that he would “slow down,” his schedule showed no signs of it, and

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