Remembering Dallas Clark

From the San Diego Union Tribune, March 26, 2005

Through low-key philanthropy, civic leadership and real-estate development, James Dallas Clark strived to shape San Diego into a community that would make future generations proud.

"When I get involved in something, whether it's real estate, church work or city planning, I just go whole hog," he told The San Diego Union in 1965. "I like to see things grow."

Mr. Clark, whose tradition of public service embraced the San Diego Zoo, the arts, health care, business, city planning and economic development, died Thursday night in his Mission Hills home. He was 91.

The cause of death was complications from heart disease, his wife, Mary, said.

"Dallas cared about the common good," said Bob Kelly, head of the San Diego Foundation. "He helped San Diego - people he would never see or never meet - and he took such pride and joy in that.

"He was a role model, the ideal community leader."

Professionally, Mr. Clark was a Realtor who specialized in developing commercial and industrial properties. He managed Maleda Partnership, a family investment company, until his death.

He was a director emeritus of San Diego Trust & Savings Bank until its sale in 1994. His grandfather, J.W. Sefton, established the bank in 1889.

As philanthropists and civic leaders, Dallas and Mary Clark gave generously. Their contributions often were quiet and anonymous - except when they believed their gifts would encourage others to donate.

Their lead gift to the San Diego Natural History Museum's capital campaign helped build a 90,000-square-foot addition that was completed in 2001 and named in their honor.

"It wasn't just financial support. It was intellectual and spiritual support," said Michael W. Hager, the museum's executive director. "What a wonderful life Dallas had and what a wonderful life he gave to others."

In 1998, the Clarks received the Medal for Distinguished Philanthropy from the American Association of Museums.

The San Diego Rotary Club named Mr. Clark a "Mr. San Diego" in 1993. Deflecting praise, he insisted that "Mary did it all."

As an early board member and one-time president of the San Diego Foundation, which has channeled $325 million to community causes in the past 30 years, Mr. Clark was known for his ability to persuade others to give.

"He was subtle, not pushy," said Phil Klauber, one of the organization's co-founders. "He recruited friends for these organizations in the community that never had enough money to get along."

Mr. Clark's community service and civic activism, which began when he was invited to serve on the Old Globe Theatre board in 1950, was a family tradition. His mother, Lena B. Clark, founded the Charity Ball to benefit crippled children in 1909 and revived the event after World War II.

Mr. Clark's support for the San Diego Zoo took on a new dimension in the 1950s when he suggested that his mother leave the proceeds from the sale of the family's Point Loma mansion to the Zoological Society. He began serving on the society's board in 1969.

As president of the San Diego Zoological Society board from 1977 to 1980, Mr. Clark was instrumental in opening the San Diego Wild Animal Park. He led a mission to China in 1979 to initiate negotiations for the giant pandas.

The 55-year lease he negotiated with the city of San Diego gave the zoo more autonomy to set its own rates, said Charles Bieler, the Zoological Society's executive director emeritus.

In 1978, after fire destroyed the Old Globe Theatre, Mr. Clark helped raise $10 million to rebuild it.

Mr. Clark's support of the arts extended to the San Diego Symphony Association, which he had served as president in the early 1960s; the Mingei International Museum, where he was a trustee; and the Timken Museum of Art, where he was on the community advisory group.

In recent years, he was active in Friends of Balboa Park, formerly called the Balboa Park Millennium Society.

"He was the ideal board member because he brought wisdom, wealth and work and he persuaded others to as well," said Kelly of the San Diego Foundation. He also worked with Mr. Clark at the American Cancer Society.

On the health front, Mr. Clark was a director emeritus of the Institute on Aging at UCSD Medical Center; a member of the Macular Degeneration Advisory Committee of the UCSD Shiley Eye Center; a member of the Planning & Development Board of the Green Cancer Center at Scripps Clinic; a national board member of Scripps Clinic and Research Foundation; and board member of the Scripps Clinic Foundation of Medicine and Science.

"He really wanted to improve the lot of others," said Dr. Alan Saven, director of the Green Cancer Center at Scripps Clinic. "He was keenly interested in supporting clinical research, particularly with respect to cancer. He wanted to ameliorate the suffering and struggling of cancer, and he did it in a non-pretentious way."

Although he was born in Fort Moultrie, S.C., on Sept. 6, 1913, Mr. Clark traced his San Diego roots to 1887, when his mother's family settled here.

Mr. Clark graduated in 1934 from the New Mexico Military Institute and was commissioned as an officer in the Army Reserve. In 1936, he graduated from the Northwestern University School of Commerce and entered the insurance industry with subsidiaries of Sears, Roebuck.

In 1940, Mr. Clark went on active duty in the Army. The day after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, he led a cavalry movement from Camp Seeley near El Centro to Camp Lockett in Campo. During World War II, he served with the 11th Cavalry and later with the Inspector General's Department, attaining the rank of major.

In 1943, he married the former Mary Hollis, whom he met while stationed at Fort Benning, Ga.

Mr. Clark returned to San Diego after the war and began specializing in industrial and commercial real estate.

He served as the first executive director of the Economic Development Corp. of San Diego County in 1965 and was instrumental in paving the way for the evolution of Torrey Pines Mesa into a biomedical center. He left the EDC in 1971 to devote full time to his family investment firm.

Mr. Clark had been a member of the city Planning Commission and the San Diego General Plan Advisory Committee.

He headed several real-estate associations, including the San Diego Realty Board in 1963 and the board's education committee, where he helped institute a real-estate certificate program in community colleges and a real-estate scholarship program at San Diego State College.

He was an elder of the First Presbyterian Church and a former board member of the San Diego Rotary Club, UCSD Foundation, the Combined Arts and Education Council of San Diego County, the San Diego Council of the Navy League and the World Affairs Council of San Diego.

Mr. Clark enjoyed spending time at his Corte Madera ranch near Pine Valley. He was an avid horseman, gardener and member of the San Diego Yacht Club.

Survivors include his wife, Mary; daughters, Dale Clark of San Diego and Bend, Ore., and Nita Clark van der Werff of Taos, N.M.; a brother, Henry B. Clark of Honolulu; and granddaughters Tessa and Leigh van der Werff.

No services were scheduled at his request. Donations are suggested to organizations that share Mr. Clark's interests.