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Jim Clarke, longtime WJLA ABC News anchor, has died

Jim Clarke, an Emmy award winning reporter at ABC News in Washington for more than 40 years whose coverage included the Iran-Contra hearings and the trial of John Hinckley Jr., died Dec. 20 at his home in Annandale.
Mr. Clarke started in the news business as a copy boy for John Cameron Swayze and joined WJLA in 1962. He retired from there in 2003 as a national affairs reporter.
During his career Mr. Clarke covered nine presidents, and was in Norway when the Monica Lewinsky scandal broke in Washington.
On his flight back, Mr. Clarke wrote his script on the back of a air-sickness bag.

If you have any fond memories of Mr. Clarke's reporting in Washington, please comment below.

By T. Rees Shapiro  |  December 21, 2009; 12:30 PM ET
Categories:  Washington DC-area people  | Tags: ABC News, Jim Clarke, TV  
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I knew Jim Clarke first like everyone else -- on air, and later in person through his family. He was the last of the old school (read "REAL") reporters to work in his field. He was a great professional and and even better person. I will miss him and I'm sure I am not alone. Love to his family and friends.

Posted by: neithernor | December 21, 2009 1:31 PM | Report abuse

You ask if I have ANY fond memories of Jim Clarke? I have nothing but fond memories, despite the fact I haven't worked with him for more than 25 years.

Here's an anecdote I put in a book I wrote about TV news, the bad and the good (Jim was THE BEST).

WJLA-Tv had gotten a newchopper, fancifully dubbed "Skywatch" Only one problem, then the station was built on an old bowling alley and there was no room to land the beast. Microwave relays from the helicopter to ground and live shots were a long way in the future.

Jim had an important story in Virginia. All Jim's stories were important to Jim, of course. Jim insisted they make air on time. He KNEW he couldn't drive to the station and get it on the air, so he made sure Skywatch was at National Airport to meet him and his videotape. He was airborne and people at the station told him it was a waste of time, since he could not land there.

They didn't know Jim Clarke. Jim ordered an intern and the assignment manager to break into the Red Cross supply cabinet and fetch an emergency blanket. He told them to get up to the roof, and open it. He would hover above them, and drop the tape, which they would catch.

Great plan, except the downwash from the blades nearly blew both men and their blanket off the roof. Still, the story made air.

Jim found came my Father's Irish wake a few years back and we've bemoaned the state of the world since by Email. I have treasured his mind, his humor, his Irishness, and his smarts about the business he loved and made better by his presence.

Jim died in his sleep Sunday after spending the day helping neighbors shovel snow. This was a 75-year-old man on knees replaced a year or so ago.I'm sure he's looked up Murrow and Uncle Walter and a few other old news hands and they are having their own Irish wake with the really, really good stuff.

John Corcoran
WJLA 1977-83

Posted by: TheCork | December 21, 2009 4:46 PM | Report abuse

I knew Mr. Clarke most of my life. After my father died,he helped me cope with that in many ways too hard to put in to word on here. He was helping me write a book and gave me guidance on it. I will miss him greatly. He was like an Uncle to me and my other siblings and he and his wife were my parents best friends. My father and Jim had a special bond.They went to movies together and haggled about politics...only it was a healthy debate/haggling!! My father was a Republican and Jim was a Democrate!!!... I had my own personal live TV show everytime i came home for the holidays!!! Instead of 'Hannity and Colms' it was 'Malooley and Clarke'!!!!
As I wrote earlier,I grew up next door to Jim and his family> He fathered 3 beautiful girls and 1 son. We played in the neighborhood and grew up together.
My last fond memory of doing something with 'Uncle" Jim was going with him to Kings Dominion. Jim had called me to ask if there was any way I could go with him on this because he wasn't able to do most of the rides anymore and wanted the kids to have fun>especially his grandson Lankston!! Jim, My daughter and nephew,His oldest grandson and I went. to say the least,it was a blast...and about his fears of not being able to keep up with us, Jim went on many of the rides too!!

He was an awsome fact,it's starting to show..his oldest grandson is in WEST POINT!! >We're all proud of him,but Jim was the proudest!!

I have already said a prayer for the family,but I'm asking others to do the same...I know my family will be there for them like they were for us when my father died ...sadly and ironically at the same age>75!!
well,thats my piece...Matt

Posted by: stillahippie564 | December 22, 2009 9:39 AM | Report abuse

I knew Jim and Lizbe as casual friends and good neighbors for more than two decades. Always involved in family and community, Jim had a kind heart and kinder words for those around him. His only harsh words were reserved for inept and corrupt political leaders nationally and internationally.

He will be sorely missed. Our thoughts are with his family.

Posted by: billulman | December 22, 2009 10:54 AM | Report abuse

Jim was a colleague, a mentor and a friend at WJLA in the 80's. We were the young whippersnappers - he was the grizzled old school ink stained wretch. He routinely left us in the dust with his stamina, contacts and limitless ability to keep working while the rest of us bellyached we hadn't had break. His TV production wasn't flashy - he didn't have the great TV hair or the 1000 watt grin. He didn't put up with the happy talk blather that passes for substantive news on too many broadcasts. Just real old fashioned reporting. Off camera, Jim was funny and kind. He taught us youngsters a lot about integrity and hard work. Washington was fortunate the TV tide hadn't changed as much back in the 1980's. He'd never make it on the air today. Andy Field, FieldVision Productions

Posted by: Andyfield | December 22, 2009 11:33 AM | Report abuse

We used to call him Bulldog Clarke, because when he got on a scent and sunk his teeth into a good story, nothing got in his way. He chased it down until he had all the details - taking great pride in getting the facts straight. Then he sat down to mobilize the English language and prepare to dispatch it on the airwaves. There was a boyish excitement as his fingers flew over the typewriter (yes, I'm dating myself) and he'd stop now and then to regale the rest of us in that reporters' bullpen with this fact or that as he picked up a head of steam and moved inexorably toward airtime. His joy for the work was infectious - and his enthusiasm about what he had discovered came alive as he later looked squarely into the camera and told us the news.

Jim was of the old school and came up the ranks and by his craft honestly. Copyboy, wire reporter, journeyman general assignment reporter, lead investigative reporter. He expected all of us, his colleagues, to meet a standard of professionalism and ethics - and he let us know when we fell short. But he was always toughest on himself. He took the privilege of informing the public seriously and never let that slide far from his vision. Integrity always mattered to Jim.

For all of his drive, Jim was a wonderfully warm human being with a wicked sense of humor. He was a good friend to his peers. Not just acquaintance friendly. If you were in a pinch, you knew you could count on him to be there for you.

I left WJLA in 1984 to pursue a second career in mental health and haven't seen Jim since - except on the television with everybody else. But I can still see his jaunty, slightly crooked grin - he almost reminded me of Roosevelt - and hear his voice as clearly as if it were yesterday, saying, "Axelson, c'mon over here - you've just got to hear this!" The memories are so fine - and, sadly, now they'll have to do. But didn't he make a difference!

Along with Johnny Corcoran, I'll toss back a shot of good single malt in Jim's honor - and agree with Cork that Jim is now in a better place, regaling the joint with one tale after another.

There's a cemetery in Hampshire, England, and in that cemetery you will find the grave of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. On his tombstone are two vivid phrases: Steel True - Blade Straight. We could do worse than appropriating the words for our dear friend and colleague. And Jim, for his part, would have appreciated the copy editor's red pen which reduced the story to its absolute essence.

Dr. Gary Axelson
WJLA 1973-1984

Posted by: gaxelson | December 22, 2009 4:52 PM | Report abuse

How very sad. Another Boomer icon passes on. Anybody 55+ who shovels their own snow is - except for a dusting - is making a mistake, no matter how "hale and hearty" they feel! RIP, and condolences to his family. He was a good man who made a difference. Would that all us guys share that epitaph.

Posted by: faygokid | December 22, 2009 10:05 PM | Report abuse

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