Clark’s Stories Tell Tale of a Life Well Lived
January 20, 2012 by Patrick Hulsman
If you truly desire to understand someone, it is essential to listen with openness to the stories that he or she shares.
Frank J. Clark’s stories are not of himself; they are about his relationships: to people, places, and experiences and how those relationships have shaped his life.
In individuals like Clark, who live their lives with great significance, there is almost always symmetry of give and take, of gifts given, enriched through personal life experience and service, and then returned with grace. This balance is evident in the way Clark characterizes the ways his life was enriched by his parents, his marriage, his faith, his profession, the United States Marine Corps, and certainly by Niagara University.
Frank Clark is gifted with a keen and precise mind. It is a mind honed in the disciplines of classical Latin and Greek declensions and the rigorous logic of law. Yet, he also possesses a particular sensitivity to the complexities of human affairs, a sensitivity that is tempered by his love for the poetry of Virgil and Homer and a tremendous sense of gratitude to so many others whom he says have contributed to the person he is. Clark’s is a mind at peace with the roles he has played in his community and in his profession. It is also a mind in friendship with laughter, especially when relating the varied stories of his life.
Clark will share that he initially wanted to attend Holy Cross but circumstances intervened and he found an open welcome at Niagara University, where he discovered a deep and lasting affinity for classical languages and literature. He places great weight on what his studies and his life at Niagara played in those formative years and how those years at Niagara helped prepare him for the challenges he would face in service to his country and his community. He especially remembers, and with great affection, the mentorship provided him by Dr. Thomas D. Lynch, who was professor and chairman of Niagara’s then department of classical languages.
“Dr. Lynch was a wonderful teacher and a wonderful man; a very good and holy man,” Clark mused while being interviewed for this profile. “He wanted me to teach the classics after I graduated. He told me that he would help me move forward into graduate school. But I wanted to take a different path. And, to paraphrase Robert Frost, that has made all the difference.”
The different path he sought led him to the study of law. After graduating from Niagara in1964, Clark took the LSAT and entered law school at the University at Buffalo, eventually earning the degree of juris doctor in 1967.
After law school, he felt the call to serve his country and enlisted in the United States Marine Corps. Clark said, with a smile, that he seemed pretty familiar with the rigor of Marine Corps training due to his time at Niagara. He stated that, “When I got to Marine training and started its grueling works, I said to myself, ‘I’ve already been through this!’” He added that the education and experience at Niagara was, in many ways, “forging the character of all of us who went there. It gave you a discipline which you sorely needed. It wasn’t only an academic lesson, it was a life lesson that the Vincentians taught us. And it impacted our lives far more than we though at the time.”
During his three-year service with the Marine Corps, he experienced the crucible of war as a combat officer in Vietnam.
About his time in the military he will only say, “I was very fortunate. Three years in the Marine Corps, with 13 months of that time in Vietnam, will teach you a lot about life. I was one of the ones who came out of that experience far richer than I was when I went in.”
Clark attributes many of the reasons why he was able to serve with distinction in both his military and professional careers to his experiences with the Vincentians at Niagara. In that, he states that his faith and its solace has provided him the spiritual bedrock from which he has built his extraordinary life. He remembers, with great approbation, the Vincentian priests and brothers who inspired him and his classmates to keep their faith at the core of their lives. He reminisces that, “They (the Vincentians) tried always to make our faith important to us. And they really led by their own example.”
He also maintains that his education and his life in the military and in law and law enforcement have been significantly seasoned by the help that he has received from so many others along the way. Clark’s firm sense of returning the gifts of a lifetime has inspired a very passionate desire to give back. He will tell you that, “Nobody achieves a great deal by themselves. Most of us owe our success to others.” He adds, “On our own we accomplish so little. But, with the help of others, it’s amazing what you can do.”
After his discharge from the Marines, Clark was admitted to practice law in state and federal courts. His résumé includes his service as chief of the Organized Criminal Drug Enforcement Task Force of the United States Attorney’s Office in the Western District of New York, chief of the Violent Felony Bureau in the Erie County District Attorney’s Office, and then, first deputy district attorney for Erie County. He was elected as Erie County district attorney in 1997 and held that position until his retirement in 2008.
Clark was awarded the Niagara University Founders Award in 2005, the Scouting Citizen of the Year in 2008 by the Greater Niagara Frontier Council of the Boy Scouts of America, and the Special Award of the New York State Humane Association in 2009. He has also received numerous citations from his professional peers in the field of law enforcement including the United States departments of Justice and Treasury, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Secret Service, and the Ontario Provincial Police in Canada.
Since his retirement he has kept an active pace with speaking and lecturing engagements. Clark and his wife, Catherine, a Buffalo school teacher, are taking advantage of his retirement to catch up on the travel and the other things they could not find the time to do in the midst of two very busy professional lives.
Now, as in his time as Erie County’s very public district attorney, his personage and distinguishable voice are immediately recognizable as local and national medias eek and feature his commentaries, where appropriate, on cases and matters of criminal law and law enforcement when their complexities require studied but transparently crystal explanations.
Clark’s relationship with Niagara University endures with his contributions to the university’s Criminal Justice Advisory Board, his special lectures to Niagara classes, and most recently, as a means of giving back, establishing a named, endowed scholarship in criminal justice studies to the College of Arts and Sciences.
On what his Niagara experience has meant to his life, he says that, “I look back on my education at Niagara and also in the Marine Corps and I know it molded me. It would have been impossible for me to have accomplished any of the things I did if it hadn’t been for that experience and for the multitude of those who helped me. Over the years, I understood what Niagara gave me; from the discipline inherent in the study of the classics and, most critical to what I believe, that there probably isn’t anything as powerful as a prayer.”