I’m very sad to learn of the passing of passing of Mr. Willie Clark, someone I’ve had the privilege of working with at Greater Newark Habitat for Humanity for the past few years. He “retired” from his own business as a contractor more than 20 years ago before coming out of retirement to serve as Habitat’s assistant foreman.
Last year, I interviewed him on what it means to have so many different apprentices and working with different families and volunteers. I mean, he’s trying to build houses, after all. It must take incredible patience:
“If you don’t have faith in what you’re doing, you can’t lead,” he told me.
Clark fought in the Korean War. As it happened, just before I received the news of his passing, I was reading about North Korea’s intercontinental ballistic missile tests and reminded that the Korean War never ended, but simply halted in a 1953 cease fire.
Clark also never stopped fighting, but he chose a different fight. He fought for people who needed hand up.
Barry Carter, writing for the Star-Ledger, chronicled Clark’s professional forays over the years before he came to Habitat:
As one of 10 siblings, Mr. Willie said, he’s had every job that you can think of in his life. He made cheese and worked in a bakery. He repaired machinery at a copper company and was a short order cook at a Newark restaurant. At one point, he was a welder at a shipping yard and sold vegetables and other wares from a horse-drawn wagon that he rented.
But none of that overshadowed how he considered himself. He was “sent to Habitat,” he told me. Habitat was “built on prayer and built on faith.
“I’m just a carpenter. I’ve always been a carpenter. An instructor. A teacher. But without love, you can’t build anything. I love every volunteer that steps on this site and I let them know it.”
Day in and day out.
I get mad at traffic lights. I get mad a typos. It’s hard to believe there are people out there who can abide by an ethos that enables them to be so patient and forgiving. But they are out there, and it’s good to be around them. They are society’s humble army of good and peace and they keep us from throttling into chaos.
Thank you, Mr. Willie. I and countless others are lucky to have been your apprentices.