Ronald Reagan and Bill Clark

Few men are so great as to change the world for the better. One man I have known holds that distinction.

You likely haven’t heard of him. His name is William P. Clark, and you don’t know him because he was modest beyond explanation. While most that succeed in the arena of public policy, especially in Washington, D.C., have a knack for self-promotion and self-aggrandizement, Bill Clark shunned the spotlight.

This doesn’t mean Bill wasn’t near the spotlight. He was most often just stage right in the career of President Ronald Reagan. Many believe, including me, Bill was the closest friend Ronald Reagan ever had. Throughout his political career, Ronald Reagan could depend on Bill to provide him sound and honest advice.

While Reagan was governor of California, Bill served in numerous posts including as his chief of staff in Sacramento. He ended those years as a Reagan appointee to the California Supreme Court. This is why those of us who knew him called him Judge, even though as late as 2011 he was still admonishing me to simple call him Bill.

Once Ronald Reagan moved to Washington, he immediately called Bill to serve him in a variety of difficult and important positions. No more important position was his appointment as national security adviser in the White House in January of 1982.

It was while serving in this job that he crafted the eventual unraveling of the Soviet Empire. Margaret Thatcher credited Ronald Reagan with “defeating the Soviet Union without firing a shot.” And this is true. But his chief policy hand in this battle was Judge Bill Clark.

The plan consisted of intense economic warfare, while at the same time Reagan offering the hand of friendship to help the Soviet dictatorship step slowly toward a pluralistic and democratic society. The most significant aspect of the economic warfare was its campaign to limit the hard currency the Soviet Bloc could earn from Russia’s large and untapped oil and gas reserves. One of the policies Clark penned was a national security directive that limited the Soviets’ access to the best of Western oil and gas equipment. He also authored a security directive that successfully limited economic credits to the Eastern Bloc.

When the Polish Communist regime headed by Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski declared martial law, Bill Clark went into action. He authored economic sanctions to damage the regime, and at the same time he coordinated an effort to help the Solidarity Union keep up the battle inside Poland for worker and human rights.

A devout Catholic, early in life Bill had considered becoming a priest. This background helped him forge the relationship between Pope John Paul II and Ronald Reagan. Close students of how the pope and President Reagan worked together know that another friendship, that between Judge Clark and the apostolic delegate to the United States, Archbishop Pio Laghi, was responsible. Bill and Laghi would meet privately for hours and script in fined detail actions taken by the two leaders.

Years later Judge Clark would recall these meetings to me with great fondness. He always felt that communism was destined to fall because of God’s plan. He was immensely happy to have played a role, even though he would always downplay his impact.

Maybe his modesty was a result of his heritage as a farmer, rancher and cowboy growing up in what was then rural Ventura County, Calif.

I will never forget his warm smile and handshake extended over a crackling campfire after a long day of riding. Bill was happiest riding with friends, driving a wagon, flying his airplane, or simply spending time with his family on his beautiful ranch in Shandon, Calif.

Bill left this earth last Saturday, and those of us that had the pleasure of knowing him are confident he is now in the arms of a loving savior, Jesus Christ. Bill followed the teachings of Christ, and it is evident in the great success he achieved.

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