VERGENNES — Longtime state Rep. Greg Clark, R-Vergennes, died on Friday, Nov. 30, after being struck by a southbound vehicle while scraping ice off his windshield at the side of Route 7 on Woodman’s Hill just south of Vergennes. He was 65.
Emergency responders were called to the scene at around 7:30 a.m. and immediately performed CPR on a critically injured Clark, who was taken to Porter Hospital where he was pronounced deceased.
A Vermont State Police investigation revealed that Clark was traveling southbound on Route 7, when he stopped his 2001 Subaru Forester in the roadway and exited the vehicle to clear his windshield.
Another southbound motorist — Todd Garthaffner, age 41 of Addison — pulled off the road in front of Clark’s Subaru and exited his Waitsfield Telecom service van to advise Clark to move out of the road because visibility was bad. Clark pulled the Subaru over more, partially onto the shoulder, and again got out of his vehicle to continue clearing the windshield, according to police.
A short time later, police said, a southbound 2003 Honda Civic operated by Rolf Trinkner, 74 of Ferrisburgh, struck Clark while he was standing outside his vehicle.
Garthaffner sustained minor injuries in the crash, while Trinkner sustained no injuries, according to police.
The Vergennes Police Department, Vergennes Fire and Rescue and Agency of Transportation were dispatched to the scene to help in response. VSP troopers from the New Haven barracks, along with members of the Crash Reconstruction Team, remained on scene Friday afternoon to continue the investigation of the crash. The Addison County State’s Attorney and the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner have also been notified, according to police, who had not cited anyone in connection with the incident as the Independent went to press.
News of Clark’s death reverberated throughout Addison County, but particularly in the Vergennes area — where Clark had served as a city councilor — and at Mount Abraham Union High School, where he had taught since 1994.
“It is shocking,” said Rep. Diane Lanpher, D-Vergennes, who had been Clark’s colleague in the two-seat Addison-3 Vermont House district for the past four years.
She talked about how she and Clark had appeared together less than 24 hours earlier talking to members of the Addison County Retired Teachers’ Association about the employee benefits debate in Montpelier. First elected to the House in 2002, Clark had spent his entire legislative career on the House Education Committee.
“Oh my God, he was such a nice man,” she said.
Indeed, Clark was known as a gregarious, conscientious man both at the Statehouse and in the halls of Mount Abe, where he built a solid rapport with other lawmakers and his students.
“When he stood up on the House floor, he would make a comment that was not only germane to the issue, but that also made everyone laugh,” said Lanpher of her colleague. Clark and Lanpher easily won re-election to new two-year terms earlier this month.
The leader of the Vermont House of Representatives also recalled Clark’s easygoing style.
“With Greg, the first thing that comes to mind was that quick smile; he was great to be around,” Vermont House Speaker Shap Smith, D-Morrisville, said during a phone interview. “He was friendly, caring and someone who had dedicated his life to kids and getting them to be successful.”
Nowhere was that more evident than at Mount Abe, where for the past 18 years he taught legions of students who would affectionately call him “Clarkie.” Clark taught primarily 12th-graders in the “Age of Legality” course.
Mount Abe Principal Andy Kepes said the school informed its senior high school students through an assembly Friday morning. Middle school students were told in a class-by-class fashion.
“We are kind of in crisis mode right now,” Kepes said Friday mid-morning. “We have a lot of counselors here working with the kids.”
Kepes, a longtime colleague, recalled Clark as one of the friendliest people one could meet.
“He had a great relationship with the kids,” Kepes said.
Former Vergennes Mayor Kitty Oxholm, who also served for one term with Clark as an Addison-3 state representative, was very saddened by news of Clark’s death.
She remembered Clark as an important addition to the city council when he first ran more than a decade ago.
“He was always a good person to guide (the council) to a consensus,” Oxholm said.
She said she received good mentorship from Clark as a new representative in 2007.
“I felt he was a good legislator who listened to his constituents; I learned a lot from him,” Oxholm said. “I considered him a good friend; he was a rock to me.”
Former Gov. James Douglas was also stunned by the news. He and Clark worked together as fellow Republicans. He admired Clark as someone who “put the state above party.”
“He was one of the hardest working legislators I’ve known and always took very seriously his responsibility to get all the information he could before making a decision,” Douglas said during an interview with the Independent.
Douglas occasionally appeared at Clark’s Age of Legality class as a guest lecturer.
“He was a very popular teacher, had a buoyant personality,” Douglas said. “He enlivened the classroom and made it fun to learn.
“We will miss him.”
Former Rep. Connie Houston, R-Ferrisburgh, also served with Clark representing Addison-3. She, too, was taken aback by news of Clark’s death.
“He was a wonderful team player and a wonderful friend,” Houston said. “He had a wonderful sense of humor and was a great Republican representative.”
Republicans and Democrats in the Addison-3 district will need to convene to solicit candidates interested in serving out Clark’s term through 2014. The committees will forward nominees to Gov. Peter Shumlin, who will make a selection.
But for now, Addison County residents will sort through the grief of losing Clark, who also served two terms on the Vergennes City Council (2001-2005) and also recovered from a major heart attack in February of 2011. He suffered the attack in his hotel room in Montpelier and recovered nicely thanks to help from his longtime wife Eileen and an aggressive rehab schedule.
“I think this has brought my family closer together,” Clark told the Independent at the time of his health crisis. “We check in with each other a lot more than we ever did before.”
Visiting hours for Greg Clark will be at Brown-McClay Funeral Home in Vergennes on Monday, Dec. 3, from 3 to 7 p.m. A memorial service will be held 2 p.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 4, at the Vergennes Congregational Church, where Clark was a member.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected]