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Judge William Clark, RIP—a Reagan confidant, an unsung hero of the Cold War

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | Aug 12, 2013

William P. Clark, the most trusted friend and ally that President Ronald Reagan had in Washington, died on August 10 at the age of 81, after a long struggle with Parkinson’s disease.

Judge Clark—as he was known to his many friends and admirers, after a career on the bench that ended with a stint on the California Supreme Court—served in the Reagan administration as Deputy Secretary of State, then National Security Adviser, and finally as Secretary of the Interior. Especially as National Security Adviser, he had enormous influence on Reagan’s thinking--because he was a close friend, because he was intelligent and persuasive, and because he was right. It was Judge Clark, more than any other figure in the Reagan administration, who encouraged the President to maintain political pressure on the Soviet Union.

Years ago I had the opportunity to interview Judge Clark and to speak at some length about what he regarded as his greatest political coup: Arranging the meeting at which President Reagan spoke with Pope John Paul II, primarily about the struggle for freedom in Eastern Europe. Judge Clark recalled that an extraordinary bond had quickly developed between those two men. He remarked: “I firmly believe that President Reagan and Pope John Paul II are most responsible for the fall of the Soviet empire, which had enslaved 300 million people prior to its surrender and dissolution. The two men shared the belief that atheistic Communism lived a lie that, when fully understood, must ultimately fail.”

When I called Judge Clark to arrange that interview, I was delighted to learn that he recognized my name. A devout and informed Catholic, he was a voracious reader of Catholic periodicals and a generous contributor to Catholic causes. His faith was absolutely central to his life, and the greatest strengths of his character—balanced judgment, unswerving commitment to principle, compassion, generosity—reflected his rich interior life.

Judge Clark also showed a degree of humility that is rare in any political figure. He did his best work in the background, and never showed interest in writing memoirs despite his historical role in American foreign policy. Fortunately Paul Kengor finally persuaded him to cooperate with an official biography, and the result— The Judge, is now available from Ignatius Press for the a mere $3.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at See full bio.

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