I was new to the choir at the First Presbyterian Church. Being taller than most, they looked for a robe that would fit me. I looked at the name tag of the robe that I was eventually given and it said “JB Clarke”. It was the first of many gifts that I would receive from this giant of a man.
John Bradley Clarke was a man that was widely known all over Southwest Georgia. He was a farmer, a real estate broker and a developer. Others might say he was a mover and shaker. Known universally as “JB”, he touched the lives of many during his 92 years.
He was born into an old Seminole County family. He married a young schoolteacher that had moved to Donalsonville from Dooly County, Laurie Bush. They enjoyed 65 years together, remaining fiercely loyal and protective of each other those many years.
JB and Laurie were blessed with two children, Brad and Luanne. Several grandchildren, nieces, nephews and friends, so many, many friends enriched their lives over their long marriage. They all have special memories that will sustain them over the coming days and weeks.
If you talk to the many friends of JB Clarke over the next few weeks and months they will all have their own stories of how JB touched them along the way. I am no different. I could never begin to put into one column the many achievements of JB Clarke so I will only address those things that I know from our own 43 year friendship.
JB was older than my own father by just a couple of years. He welcomed me into Donalsonville as the green 21-year-old manager of Beall Peanut Company. He treated me as a man and as his equal from those earliest days, something I never forgot.
JB was a big thinker. He loved putting together deals. He was always putting notes and quotes into the notepad he always carried with him. He had a column for years in the Donalsonville News. He was a renaissance man before the term was popular.
JB introduced me to a group of World War II and Korean Conflict veterans. Most of them had been lifelong friends. It evolved over time into the aptly named “Do Nothing Club”. We would meet every month or so and discuss the events of the day, including politics. It was the genesis for many good ideas for the community and served as a call to action for several worthy projects. JB was always the point man that got the group together.
I was at least a generation removed from even the youngest of this group but treasured my time together with these men. It was just another gift to me from JB.
JB was a leader in the Presbyterian Church long before I arrived in Donalsonville and remained so until his last days. He challenged the church to increase its benevolent giving each and every year, something that probably would not have happened without his yearly challenge to the budget committee.
He was a leader in many farm organizations. He was a past president of the Lions Club and served in many leadership roles in that service organization over the years. He did everything from working at the concession stand on Friday nights to serving as a long term director of Merchants and Farmers Bank.
That was part of the essence of what made JB Clarke special. There was no job too small for him to tackle despite his many important obligations. He genuinely wanted to help people and there is a long list to verify to the fact that he succeeded on many different occasions.
There is a dwindling list of people who were JB’s contemporaries. For most of their lives they were the most steadfast of friends. I always admired that about all of them.
Our own friendship was of a different type, something you might call generational friends. JB dared me to do better. He encouraged me when I needed support from an older community leader. He complimented me when I deserved it and challenged me when I warranted that as well. We talked frankly and truthfully, with a joke or two along the way. Most importantly, he and I both listened to each other.
For over four decades I have worn a choir robe in the First Presbyterian Church of Donalsonville. Every Sunday morning during that long period, I would look for the robe with my name. Almost every time I would think about the name on that first robe, JB Clarke.
JB loved to sing. He fought death valiantly by living life fully. I can almost hear him singing at his last sunset, living life on his own terms and leaving a legacy that will never be forgotten.
Dan Ponder can be reached at [email protected]