Fall 2023


Hon. William “Bill” A. Clark, ’52: A Michigan Man in Ohio

By Annie Hagstrom

A portrait of The Hon. William “Bill” A. Clark, ’52 at a Michigan Football game.
Bill Clark, ’52, never missed an opportunity to see Michigan play Ohio State—he attended the game for 72 consecutive years between 1946 and 2018.

The Hon. William “Bill” A. Clark, ’52, was a double Wolverine whose maize-and-blue pride stood firm throughout his 54-year legal career in Dayton, Ohio. His wife of 69 years, Cathy C. Clark, BA ’52, credits the University of Michigan with profoundly affecting their lives and recently established a scholarship fund at Michigan Law in honor of her late husband.

“My husband was a hard worker, and the Law School helped instill that in him,” says Cathy. “It would mean a great deal to him to help students access the same kind of education at a place like Michigan Law.”

Born and raised in Dayton, Bill was inspired to attend college by his father, Webb R. Clark, who was the first in the family to do so. Webb graduated from Michigan with an undergraduate degree in 1922 and received his law degree from the Law School in 1925. Following graduation, Webb established a legal practice in Dayton. 

Bill always dreamed of joining his father at the firm. After graduating from the Law School, Bill served as a military lawyer in the US Air Force Judge Advocate General’s Corps, stationed at Scott Air Force Base near Belleville, Illinois, and intended to return to Dayton in 1954 to join his father’s firm. However, his father unexpectedly died, and Bill took over the law practice altogether. It was not the family firm that he had envisioned, but he familiarized himself with his father’s clients, grew the business, and became a successful and prominent lawyer in Dayton for nearly four decades. 

Outside of the firm, Bill held several roles in public service. He was elected as a judge for Montgomery County and served as an assistant attorney general for the State of Ohio. In 1985, he retired from private practice and became the US Bankruptcy Court Judge for the Southern District of Ohio, during which he served as chief judge from 1993 to 1999.

Bill was known for his kind and genial nature throughout his career. At a luncheon honoring his legacy, his colleagues at the bankruptcy court told a story about how he often received calls from people trying to reach the Social Security office in town, which had a phone number similar to his own. “He would just say, ‘Well, you’ve got the wrong number, but I’ll tell you the right one. And don’t call at the beginning of the month because that’s when they’re really busy,’” remembers Cathy. “If he could be kind, he just was.”

Bill and Cathy—whose maiden name was also Clark—were introduced by her sister, Sally, who was assigned alphabetically to sit next to Bill in an undergraduate history class. Bill and Cathy had an immediate connection, and they married while Bill was attending the Law School and Cathy was pursuing her undergraduate degree. 

Scanned photos of Bill Clark and wife Cathy Clark.
Bill and Cathy Clark in U-M’s Martha Cook dormitory and in Ann Arbor in the late 1940s.

“He always appreciated being at Michigan and was proud of its commitment to academic excellence,” says Cathy. “I think he passed on many of his gifts to our four daughters, two of whom also went to Michigan.” 

After settling in Dayton, Bill and Cathy were actively engaged with various civic and professional organizations, including the Dayton Bar Association, the Christ United Methodist Church in Kettering, Ohio, Friendship Force, the Dayton Opera Guild, and the Lincoln Society. Bill also played a significant role in the commissioning of the Abraham Lincoln statue that resides in Dayton’s Courthouse Square.

As a member of the Sigma Chi fraternity, Bill formed lifelong friendships while attending the University of Michigan. He became close with the football players Peter and Bump Elliott, Walter Teninga, and Howard Cooper, who played for the Wolverines during back-to-back national championships in 1947 and 1948. Bill also played football, though he wasn’t on the same team as his fraternity brothers—he was a quarterback for two years on Michigan’s first and only 150-pound football team. 

A portrait of The Hon. William “Bill” A. Clark, ’52 at a Michigan Football game.
Bill is pictured at the Michigan vs. Ohio State football game in 2018.

Over the years, Bill never missed an opportunity to see Michigan play Ohio State—he attended the game for 72 consecutive years between 1946 and 2018—and his passion for the Wolverines rubbed off on his four daughters, Mary, Jenny, Cindy, and Wendy. Growing up in Buckeye country, the Clark sisters experienced playful rivalries with their classmates. But they took the opposition in stride, thanks to the sense of respect for competition instilled by their father. “He was a very competitive person in the best ways, but he always said it’s important to understand that it really is just a game,” says Wendy Clark, the youngest daughter.

Aside from being a proud Michigan family in a sea of Ohio State scarlet and gray, Bill and Cathy’s daughters say their father’s most important legacy was his positive attitude about life and commitment to giving 100 percent effort in everything he did: “Try, try, try” became something of an unofficial Clark family motto. He also gave his daughters the gift of education. 

“He had a lifelong passion for learning, and we had the complete luxury of always knowing we could go to any college we wanted, which was incredible,” says Wendy. “This scholarship in his honor will provide that same opportunity to students at the Law School.”

Jenny Kinder, their second-oldest daughter, adds, “He taught us to look out for the little guy and support things that will help others to whatever extent you can. With the cost of education today, our dad believed it’s worthwhile to help someone else, and this scholarship is an extension of his empathetic and generous nature.”

A portrait of The Hon. William “Bill” A. Clark's family holding paper cut out block M's
The extended Clark family gathered in Northern Michigan earlier this year on what would have been Bill’s 95th birthday to celebrate his life.