Vol. 34, No. 7
In and Around the Bar
Roger Clark: A Profile Of the New CBA President
by Diane Hartman
A few years back, Roger Clark and his wife B.J. took their pregnant daughter Kelly shopping for baby furniture. Kelly found the precise dresser she wanted—it was the "daily special" at Babies"R"Us and you had to buy it and take it home, no delivery. They were pretty sure it would fill the SUV, but Roger said, "Kelly, if you want this, we’ll make it work." Sure enough, they could only wedge it in. BJ suggested the three of them sit in the front, but Roger said, no, that’s against the seat-belt law. He repeated: "We will make this work." Roger managed to get his legs and body around the dresser and stuck his head out the window (although his whole body went to sleep), and that’s how they drove home.
"That’s what he’s like," said his wife of thirty-four years. "He’s a consensus builder."
Some might call that stubborn, but we won’t.
Legions of his fans praise him for many things, but as members get to meet him during presidential visits this year, the thing they may notice first is how comfortable Roger is with who he is and his surroundings. Perhaps because of that, he’s one of the funniest people we know.
|Roger Clark with Mary Jo Gross,|
Immediate Past-President of the
Denver Bar Association
Roger was born in New Orleans and raised in Texas—but has no accent.
"My mother said it’s because I never listened."
His family, including a brother who Roger said got in much more trouble than he did, and two sisters, moved around quite a bit, because their dad was with the U.S. Weather Bureau. But mostly he remembers the house in Fort Worth. "It was like farm country. For fun, we’d go pick up a watermelon, hike a few miles, break it open and eat it. I fished a little bit, played some casual sports, some basketball, tennis, and football.
"I had a happy childhood. I loved being a child. I never quite got over that."
They’d ride bikes to the drugstore to buy baseball and football cards. He played the alto sax from the sixth grade on, but don’t ask him to play it now. He was president of the band in high school: "Some of my best friends still are people who were in that band."
His first school spanking was in the first grade. "It taught me a lot. I had been working on a project, when a neighbor girl came over and grabbed it and said she was going to tear it up. I chased her around the room like any normal person would. A witness claimed we were both chasing each other. I learned that you should get even in private and chase girls in private."
One time in high school, he and his friends decided to play a trick on the teacher in charge of the science club. Together they took the pins out of the heavy door and when she came in, the door fell over on her. "She wasn’t amused."
He was "very careful," and "very adept at not getting caught" misbehaving.
His parents were liberal politically, making them very different from their friends and neighbors. "They were very religious —serious Methodists; they had met while going to a Methodist college. We were the tolerated liberal/progressive family in the neighborhood and church. My folks were always so involved in the community that people accepted them. I think they changed a lot of people’s lives."
From his parents, he learned to keep an open mind and be courteous. From his mother, he got an appreciation for education and the arts. "My mother was a good painter, she threw pots, did ceramics, and was a good writer. She dragged me to museums all over the country." The humor comes from his dad: "He loved bad puns and had a knack for finding something humorous even in dark situations. He didn’t withhold telling any jokes no matter how bad they were."
Roger went to college at Rice University in Houston. "If you were in Texas and a fairly good student," Rice was one of the places you considered. It was difficult to get into—but once you did, it was tuition-free, because of the way the school was founded. Roger’s class was the last to go through like that. With about 2,700 students, the pressure was intense. "Lots of ‘Type As’—in our class of less than 400, we had ninety-nine salutatorians and even more valedictorians. Those kinds of young people aren’t necessarily the best socialized. There were lots of nerds, not excluding myself. It was largely oriented toward science and engineering, and I quickly learned that those subjects didn’t interest me. I was a political science major and took lots of history and government courses.
"I loved almost everything at Rice. I had easy access to sports. The basketball team was so bad, I could play pickup games with them and not feel out of place." He is now a rabid Rice alum, his wife said, and brags about their baseball championship, even though he doesn’t like baseball. "He’s a Rice Owl and his friends all know that."
After college, he realized he would be facing the world with a degree in political science and no prospects. "I had never thought about law school. I’d never known a lawyer, not a single one. But it occurred to me that going to law school was something I could do with this degree." He applied at Harvard, was accepted—and his father said, "Where??"
Roger thought it was fun, a beautiful place, young people everywhere, all kinds of educational and creative opportunities. His father didn’t quite see it that way. His father drove Roger and two friends to Cambridge. "We were driving through Harvard Square in 1968. My father is very open-minded, but there were people with long hair and people smoking things. We get right in the middle, he slams on the brakes and looks at me and says, ‘I can always take you home.’ I thought: I don’t THINK so."
At Harvard, there were study groups called "Law Clubs," where people of similar thinking and background got together to share ideas. They were named after famous judges, like the Learned Hand Club or the Frankfurter Club. "I was never going to get invited to one of those, so a friend and I started our own called the Crater Club, after a judge who was famous because he disappeared in the ’30s under mysterious circumstances. We wanted to get pictures of our members around an empty chair for the yearbook. We thought we were so clever, but the only professor who agreed to sponsor us was Archibald Cox."
For two years, he lived in Story Hall, a dorm infamous for not being as serious "as they hoped students would be." One day, Roger saw a notice that the Radcliff Graduate Center was going coed and was looking to bring in twenty men. Roger got fifteen friends to apply.
The dean of the law school called the head of the Radcliff Graduate Center and said, "I should tell you something about these people." She replied: "That sounds like exactly what we need to liven things up." And of course they did.
One achievement was re-opening what had been a coffeehouse in the basement. "We convinced the easily-manipulated people running the Graduate Center that if we had a private club, we could serve beer. Every week, a beer truck would pull up and deliver far too many cases. We had people join by paying $1, which entitled you to four beers. . . . I think the statute of limitations has run out on that." One night, they had Kurt Vonnegut down. "There were about thirty of us talking to him; he was the hottest ticket around."
That club produced four or five marriages, he said, and one was Roger and B.J. She was getting her Master’s Degree in Education at Harvard and living in the dorm.
After graduation, they married and Roger took a job in Chicago. They lived there for a couple of years. B.J. describes Roger as a packrat. "He can tolerate quite a bit of disorder in his office and home." B.J. recounts dealing with two large trunks that Roger had at Harvard, which they ended up shipping three times to various locations until they settled down. B.J. was unpacking and finally opened one of them: the trunk was filled with unmatched socks and a deflated Red Pig’s football, with the signatures of his intramural football teammates from Harvard. They still have the football.
Old story: when they came out to visit a former classmate in Fort Collins, they fell in love with Colorado and decided to move here in 1973. Roger began practicing law with Lynn Hammond and John Chilson in Loveland.
All of Roger’s friends willingly told stories about him—several mentioned a trip to a country-western bar called Gilley’s in Houston when they were there on CBA Young Lawyers Division business. Kirk Rider from Grand Junction said: "Gilley’s was awesome. In our opinion, we fit right in. Roger didn’t dance or ride the bull, but he did drink beer and tell jokes." He added that Roger’s brother was such a regular at Gilley’s that he was an extra in "Urban Cowboy" with John Travolta and that his elbow appeared on the album cover.
Dick Gast related a time they all went to a CU football game, and Roger was sitting right behind movie star Cloris Leachman. "Somehow, before it was all over, Roger was giving her a back massage. That’s probably one of the highlights of his life."
Should he appear too frivolous, many said that a huge part of Roger’s life is philanthropy—he and B.J. work in many areas of community service. "They both believe in giving back and they take joy in it," one friend said.
Another part is writing. He calls his poetry second rate, but his friends don’t. He and B.J. belong to a writing group—a recent interest they’re both having fun with.
Roger despises computers and doesn’t like technology either. B.J. put a computer in his office, only to find the next week he had put it in someone else’s office. She asked for a Blackberry for Mother’s Day and Roger delivered, but refers to it as her raspberry. Roger admits that he’s "distressed by some aspects of modern life." He believes technology has made people less civil and less courteous. "I regret that. I think either we’ve lost an understanding of what the founding principles of our society were or perhaps the importance of civil liberties was never really understood in the first place."
Roger has a fairly broad civil practice in Loveland and says: "I like being a lawyer. I can think of no group that is more open-minded, educated, animated, and good-humored. I like practicing law and like practicing in a small town where you get a chance to know people." All the attorneys he’s practiced with are "among my best friends," he said. "It produces a friendship that’s almost akin to a marriage."
DBA President Mary Jo Gross is a long-time friend, and has spent the last twenty Christmases at their home ("and then they come to Denver for Passover"). She described when they invited her up: "Not only have they folded me into their family, all of their friends in Loveland have too."
She says Roger "is one of the most intelligent, articulate, talented people I have ever met in my entire life, and one of the most humble. He can do anything. He has an acute legal mind, he writes, he draws, he plays tennis, he does everything."
But, she said: "The whole purpose of Roger’s life, everything he’d done or experienced, has led up to his role as grandfather of those two boys. He is a baby hog. He’s into it. They have second sets of everything at their house. You should just see his face."
B.J. said she thinks Roger wants lawyers to be proud of themselves. "He sees it as a noble profession and he truly likes other lawyers. The other thing is that he’d like to see them enjoy themselves."
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