Altoona native who made good in Boston dies

Clarke

Terry Clarke achieved acclaim in Boston, but he looked back at Altoona as though it were a cinder-pocked paradise.

The son of a state assemblyman, nephew of the lead defense lawyer in the war crimes trial of a Japanese general in 1945 and cousin of the late Central High School football coach Harry Clarke, Terry was a PIAA hurdles champion, earned a track and football scholarship to Pitt, quit to join the Air Force, learned Chinese, translated and transcribed intercepted messages while riding in spy planes, competed in the Olympic trials in 1960, ran track at Boston University, was a member of an international champion barbershop quartet and founded a public relations firm and an advertising agency in Boston, gaining regional prominence.

Yet Altoona was always in his heart, and when he talked about his native city, he made it seem like “Camelot,” said his son, Lawson.

For Terry, Altoona was “real life,” said Larry Tully, an Altoona native who met Terry after moving to Massachusetts and who was one of Terry’s fellow members in the Boston Common barbershop group.

The city of their youth would come alive for them when they talked about running around their respective neighborhoods, going to Lakemont Park, eating hot dogs and cornmeal mush and visiting the farmer’s market downtown, Tully said.

“We felt that we were gifted being from Altoona,” said Tully, who was 12 years younger and looked up to Terry as though he were an older brother.

Terry looked up to his actual older brother, Robert, in similar fashion, according to Chip Clarke, Harry’s son.

The brothers’ relationship was loving but competitive and needling — Robert sent a sympathy wreath for Terry’s 50th birthday — and there was a lot of “gamesmanship,” according to Chip.

The brothers were partners in pranks played on others, said Terry’s nephew Clarke Young.

Terry carried the mischief into his adult life.

In Boston, as an owner of ad agency Clarke Goward, Terry visited a stodgy firm that was accepting presentations for a contract. He was one of many suppliants and entered a dark-carpeted boardroom immediately after representatives of a competing company had left.

“I know you’ve seen a lot of dog and pony shows,” Terry announced. “But you haven’t seen ours.”

At that point, his associates ushered in a Shetland pony and a dachshund.

“He didn’t get the job,” Young said. But the stunt created notoriety that benefited the firm.

Terry traveled all over the United States with his barbershop group, and after concerts, he’d always take the time to talk with anyone who was interested, said Lawson.

Terry could be contentious, as well as daring, as he demonstrated in 1980 at the international championships sponsored by the Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barber Shop Quartet Singing in America.

As a barbershopper, Terry had long objected to the practice of judges coaching groups and then officiating in contests in which those groups took part, Lawson said.

For years, Terry’s group, the Boston Common, was “punished” for his stance and for their insistence on having their own distinctive sound, Lawson said.

That punishment became evident when the Boston Common won second place — despite a superior performance — in the 1979 national championships, he said.

The next year, at Salt Lake City, the Boston Common performed even better and his father knew it, Lawson said.

As the members bowed after completing their two songs, his father called out to the judges, “Shove it up your –,” Lawson said.

That indulgence upset two of the members, who feared it would lead to another disappointment, but the performance had been so good that the judges had no choice but to award the group the gold, Lawson said.

Terry made people comfortable, got their attention off of themselves and got them engaged, Young said.

He was also generous, Chip said, and he liked to impress.

When Chip and his family visited Boston in November 1990 so that Chip’s sister, Carole, could meet the Boston University track coach, Terry obtained skybox tickets for a Celtics game against the Chicago Bulls — featuring Larry Bird versus Michael Jordan — for Friday evening and tickets for a Bruins game against the Pittsburgh Penguins for Saturday evening, Chip said.

He also offered to get tickets for that Sunday’s New England Patriots game.

Before the Friday game, Terry asked Chip whether he could do any more.

Half-joking, Chip responded, “Get me courtside.” Chip was an amateur photographer and wanted to take close-up pictures of the game.

“I just sort of threw it

out there as a fantasy wish,” he wrote.

But when they got to the game, after Terry directed the others to the skybox, he told Chip, “Follow me.”

They descended ramp after ramp, then passed through a sliding access door and out onto the floor of the old Boston Garden and up to a middle-aged man holding a camera and sitting on a stool.

“Chip, I’d like you to meet Dick Raphael,” Terry said. “Dick and I went to college together.”

Raphael was the Celtics team photographer, and Chip spent the entire game with him.

“That was Terry in a nutshell,” Chip wrote. “Always a gracious host, always willing to pull strings to make an event an EVENT … just to prove that nothing you ask of him is too much.”

Terry loved the spotlight and made good use of it, Chip added.

Still, Terry never took himself too seriously, according to Young.

“He could appear to be a bit blustery,” Chip wrote. “But it was usually followed by some self-deprecating comment.”

Perhaps fittingly, his death resulted from a fall over a fitting for a septic tank.

It happened on Feb. 10 in Florida.

“I imagine Terry rushing as usual to get ready for his (barbershop) performance,” Young wrote. “(A)ll spruced up, not a hair out of place, clean-shaven, teeth flashing, mind racing, dressed to the nines. And, of course, he’s late. He rushes out of his cabin, and, with flashlight in hand, he heads off to the main hall — all the while warming up his voice and mentally rehearsing his lines. In the dark, he trips and goes down. I can see … the headlines … ‘World-class Altoona hurdler trips, dies on septic tank.'”

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