It is with a certain degree of sadness that we note Dr. Garry Clarke’s farewell concert in the Hotchkiss Recital Hall next Saturday afternoon at Washington College. While we are relieved that Dr. Clarke and his wife, Melissa, plan to stay in town after his retirement this month, this is an important milestone, and an appropriate time to acknowledge the professor’s indelible mark on our community since he arrived from Yale in 1968.
With the possible exception of Professor Howard Hill in the “Music Man”, it is hard to think of another individual that has had so much positive impact in the cultural life of a small American town. From his founding of the beloved Concert Series at the College, to community choruses, adult education programs, finding Kennedy Center opera tickets for both students and community members, downtown organ recitals at Emmanuel Church, or hundreds of other efforts to bring the joy of classical music to our rural hamlet, Dr. Clarke’s service to the greater Chestertown community deserves our utmost gratitude.
These cumulative contributions of Dr. Clarke would be a remarkable legacy for any individual, but it does not end with music. Through a rare combination of scholarship, personality and talent, Professor Clarke also served by taking on some of the most difficult roles in higher education, that of Dean and Interim President of Washington College in the early 1980s. In both roles, he brought a sense of humor and kindness to a campus and a community rarely found in college towns.
In many ways, Professor Clarke’s almost forty-five years of service to the College and to Chestertown is his own unique magnum opus. A work so large in scale, so masterly performed, that like any great piece of music, it continues to move the audience long after the symphony is over.
Garry Clarke’s Chestertown Opus will have that kind of effect for many years to come.