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RIP Don Clark

Written By: - Date published: 9:43 am, June 5th, 2021 - 14 comments
Categories: Deep stuff - Tags:

West Auckland Labour Activist Don Clark’s funeral happened this week, and it’s not often the only song at a funeral is Solidarity Forever.

When the union’s inspiration through the workers’ blood shall run
There can be no power greater anywhere beneath the sun
Yet what force on earth is weaker than the feeble strength of one
But the union makes us strong
Solidarity forever
Solidarity forever
Solidarity forever
For the union makes us strong

In 2021 we can if we want decry the decline of the union movement, but if you’re celebrating a life from 1930 the best thing to do is look back and realise what was built, what was good of that, and what good that work did. It is on that organising principle of solidarity that post-war modern New Zealand was built (in using the term ‘post-war’, Don was also a strong pacifist).

Don’s political engagement started in earnest in 1949 when Labour got creamed after a very long time in power. In Labour Youth he met the person who was to become his wife of 60 years, Noreen. Actually they first met in a school staffroom when he threw her a packet of matches when she asked the staffroom for a light for her cigarette. Right there, better than www.match.com, that’s an actual match.

If you’ve ever engaged hard with an experienced national-level campaign manager, you’ll find that they are an exhausting and driven bunch.

They will push volunteers into the earth with door-knocking, phone calling, fundraising, kicking the ass of their candidates who are foolish rubes to start with and believe they own the planet after their first win, and all the rest, and people like Don will do it whether the Party is rising to triumph or tanking into the bottom of the sea. He was 6 foot 4 and his stride counted for double that of all others, or that’s how it felt.

Don’s Gold Badge was won with utter dedication. Opening their doors to Labour Youth in Wellington and then in the 1980s in Titirangi, they gave it their all. I don’t think there was anyone better to run a telephone tree (that thing before Facebook) than Noreen. The Clark’s, and the handful of loyal families who had gone through with Labour in the west right through the 1970s, they were the ones who held up the joint when plenty left in the mid 1980s. We would not be where we are now without them.

There are a few you can still see wanting to be that old-school tentpole-fervour campaign leader. They get paid nothing if anything, and devote themselves to the good of the person who they want elected.

After the election when the dealin’s done they are usually discarded, they suck it up, and keep going because they simply believe in the cause far more than what’s in it for them. Raw altrustic driven belief – a drug better than any elixir of life you could name.

Once in the mid 1950s, Auckland Zoo got its first Orangutan, and it drew quite a big crowd on its first morning. So he marched up to the front of the cage, commanded everyone’s attention, tapped the bars and said “Well Mr Holyoake, now that you’re where you should be …”

You were either a Labour supporter at that point or you weren’t.

He also had a clear idea of what an alternative to untrammelled capitalism would look like, as a fervent supporter of the Fabian Society and by doing a lot of research on the Basque Mondragon collectives.

He was great with his children and grandchildren, could describe one variant of a symphony from another, the students he lectured at AIT adored him, loved good friends around to dinner, and was simply an outstanding guy.

He fought the fight, raised The Standard, mostly won, and he was great to campaign with.

Good work Don. Rest in peace now.

Labour Westie

14 comments on “RIP Don Clark ”

  1. Anne 1

    Got a photo of him Labour Westie?

    In the 1970s and early 1980s I had a close relationship with the West Auckland Labour Party. I must have met him but can't recall his face.

    There were quite a few like him. 'Solid as the Rock of Gibraltar' was the old description of such people. They usually didn't abide fools very well. When you dug deeper you often found someone who was not only highly intelligent but were also deeply sensitive and in the privacy of their homes probably spent hours listening to the great classical composers.

    • mickysavage 1.1

      Hi Anne

      I put the post up and scoured my many photos for one of Don but could not find one …

      He and Noreen came to West Auckland in the mid 1980s so possibly after your time Anne but he was as you say solid as a rock, did not abide fools well, was very intelligent and had a heart of gold.

  2. Byd0nz 2

    I never knew him, but have known others that would fit Annes great description of folk his ilk.

    So yes, well done for a life well lived.

    • Anne 2.1

      And when I say they didn't abide fools very well: quite often the fools resided in high places and had lots of power but the Don Clarks saw through them and knew them for what they were – pretenders.

  3. Patricia Bremner 3

    What is the song… "You can't get me I'm part of the Union"? A suitable tribute.

  4. Barbara Hutchinson 4

    Just read the post and am sitting here on a murky day in Blenheim with memories flooding through my mind and tears in my eyes. Don and Noreen were a great part of my years with Labour in West Auckland.

  5. Darien Fenton 5

    Oh I missed this and so did John. We so often underestimate the role of rank and file Labour activists and we should never, because they are the ones who do the hard yards. He will be sadly missed. His contribution mattered and his life made a difference.
    Rest easy now my friend.

  6. David Cunliffe 6

    Don was a great campaign mamager and a dear friend. Titirangi and New Lynn Labour and its various MPs – this grateful ex MP included – owe him a great debt. RIP Matua Don. Thank you.

  7. David Cunliffe 7

    RiP Don, a dear friend and trusted adviser and campaign manager over many years. Don has been a stalwart of Labour his whole adult life. He was active especially in Miramar and West Auckland. He managed and co-managed my first and second campaigns, where a young team unseated a sitting National Minister and turned Titirangi jnto a red rock (with hints of green!). He has over the years continued to be a rock steady support and gentle custodian of the socialist flame in the West.

    Don and his wife Noreen and their lovely wider family were always true to their values and pronciples. There was always a warm welcome, sharp humour and clear eyed analysis of the world.

    I last saw Don during his final weeks, and it was clear his race was run and his long, happy and wonderful life nearing its natural rest. He has earned it. He leaves behind a strong and lovely family who will miss him incredibly. We all will. Haere ra big guy. Thanks for everything. You made the world a better place.

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