The Rev. Canon Dr. Gervais Clarke, OD
~ By Avia Ustanny - Reposted from the Sunday Gleaner July 13, 2003
On his recent visit to the island, we were advised that the best place to catch up with Canon Gervais Clarke was at Sabina Park where he was in attendance at the first day of the Test Match between the West Indies and Sri Lanka.
Sabina Park was where the Canon saw his first Test Match 55 years ago, not far from where he used to live on Arnold Road. His neighbours, at home, were the famous sportsmen Herb McKenley and Freddie Green.
The Rev. Canon Gervais A.M. Clarke, O.D. Ph.D., is the son of the late Vincent Morrison Clarke and his wife Maude Gwendolyn (nee Harris), both deceased. He was born in Kingston, Jamaica, attended the Mico Practising School and was sent to Calabar High School in 1952 on a Government Scholarship.
The Calabar graduate who chose Christian Ministry as his career has been equally committed to sports.
Canon Clarke told Outlook, "I held the tape at Sabina Park for the track meet held there after the 1952 Olympics. That was the vaccination process and I have never recovered from it."
He said that he became an official of the Jamaica Amateur Athletics Association (JAAA), on the encouragement of the late Mortimer Geddes (then at XLCR and later headmaster of Titchfield High School) while in high school, and remained one ever since. When he went to Princeton University in the U.S. he became a certified USA track official and reached Master status in 1985. Between 1988 and 1996 he had the privilege of being the chairman for the training of track officials in the State of New Jersey where he has lived since 1987.
Track and field
Reverend Clarke was made co-chair of the Selection Committee for USA Track and Field (USATF) at the Atlanta Olympics in 1996. He was chief finish judge in track at those games. Canon Clarke's commitment to track and field has also continued unabated over the years.
He has been an official at the Penn Relays since 1984 (having attended all since 1967) and has been serving as the Associate Chief Finish Judge since 1992. The referee at all Princeton University track meets since 1989, he has been a Timekeeper at the famous Millrose Games since 1988, having attended all since 1972.
In 1996, while he was in charge of the training of all track officials (1988-94) in the State of New Jersey, Canon Clarke was also the co-chair of the Officials Selection Committee Olympic Games in Atlanta, Georgia in that year. Officiating duties at the National Collegiate Athletics Association (NCAA), the Goodwill Games, Olympic Trials, and other international and nationwide events gives him vast experience in the sport.
USA Track and Field gave him the Presidential Award in 1995 for services to the sport in that country. For the past five years, he has written extensively as "Canon Gee" in "Track and Field Jamaica", a quarterly magazine published by his lifelong friend and International Amateur Athletic Assocation (IAAF) Council member and area representative, Teddy McCook.
Most recently, Canon Clarke was brought to the island as the guest speaker at The Best Care Foundation Banquet at the Pegasus on June 27.
Although he is so busy, yet one would not be able to label the Canon as a workaholic. He still makes time for the things which matter most to him.
"I have always worked hard, applied myself and have had much success. But this is possible under God and He has blessed me greatly, in spite of me. No one would label God who works even harder as a workaholic," the Reverend quips.
His philosophy of ministry is that "God is good and he wants us to be like him, in spite of ourselves." He says, "he understands and He forgives and He loves us with an Everlasting Love. I have been the recipient of His Love so I can minister faithfully to those who seek it. After 37 years as a pastor that has not changed. No challenge is too much if I keep this theme before me always and do not get in the way myself."
His competitive spirit and love of sports do not include the desire to win at all costs, the Canon says. "I like to live with myself and winning at all costs does not sit well with me. However, one ought not to become comfortable with losing, for as my coach at Calabar Herb McKenley told me in my formative years, losing becomes easier when we are accustomed to it."
McKenley, he said, added that there "is only one thing better or sweeter than winning and that is 'winning again'. To put it philosophically, success breeds success. When you approach anything expecting success, it helps."
The Canon's life has not been one of smooth achievement without setbacks. "My going to St. George's Church in 1970 was a challenge, since the downtown churches were struggling. God was there and things turned around splendidly. My time in Belize as a missionary was very trying and my family had remained in Jamaica. Then there was a problem in the church there that was very disturbing to me and my view of church -- but the devil is alive everywhere and the church is not exempt. But Belize was a wonderful experience, this aside."
When Rev. Clarke came to Epiphany in Orange, New Jersey, the task appeared insurmountable as it was a difficult congregation. "Many thought that I would not have survived. But sunshine came after the clouds and shadows. After 16 years there, I have no regrets."
Canon Gervais has achieved much in the United States. He has been a Notary Public for the State of New Jersey since October 1988, and the first Chaplain of colour in the Orange Fire and Police Departments (since November 1987).
Clarke is also the second person of colour in the history of the USA to be a certified Senior Police Chaplain.
He tells Outlook, "St. Paul sees our faith as the race of life and asks us to run that we may obtain. Sports have taught me to accept winning and losing with equal poise. In fact, Freddie Green told me over 50 years ago that a bad sportsman is usually a bad person (generally speaking) since sports mirror and reflect our real selves. Today in sports is good the next day not so good, but there is the next day after that a new day."
Relying on the Creator
His involvement in sports, he asserts, is a healthy one and far from being an addiction. "One can worship through and in sports if one does not divide up life into compartments. Athletes rely on their Creator to do their very best, as long as they play within the rules."
He further adds, " A sport teaches us that there are ups and downs in life, that behind every dark cloud there is a silver lining. We compete against ourselves and our PR performances inspire us whether we win, lose or draw. In a world that is a virtual rat race, this is a breath of fresh air. As long as you are improving in your chosen sport, you are doing well."
In his lifetime, Canon Gervais Clarke has been the recipient of many public accolades, including the Order of Distinction from the Jamaican Government for his role in sports.
But no achievement, he says, has been so rewarding as his family and relationship with his wife, Joan, of 35 years. "Joan, has been a wonderful wife to me and a great mother to our children. One of her medical associates told me in Malaysia that she sacrificed her career as a doctor for our sons who are her pride and joy. She is very laid back, always calm and sound in her judgments. Only one partner can be forthright, frank, outspoken and gushing. Above all, she understands me."
His wife, he says, has been of great assistance to him in his ministry.
The capable seamstress she has made many vestments and altar regalia for the churches in which he has served. "The daughter of an Anglican Priest, she loves the Lord and so I am not unequally yoked. After these many years I can state that it was God that brought us together."
He credits his exceptional batting average in marriage and child rearing totally to his wife. Both their sons are Ph.Ds in Aeronautical Engineering from the Massachussetts Institute of Technology (MIT). The eldest, John-Paul, is an Associate Professor in the discipline there. His brother Michael a Consultant with Sabre Technology Solutions in Dallas, Texas.
"They have made us proud and I jokingly say that 'they have their mother's brains since I still have mine," Canon Clarke says with a smile.
He adds, "They have been set an example from home, love the Lord and have remained humble in spite of their successes. Above all, they are friends and this is something for which we as parents thank God."
The boys were both students of Vaz Prep where the Canon Clarke's mom taught for 30 years. They are also past students of Calabar. All are quite mad about their mlma mater. The family tradition continues.