AP File Photo
Rep. Gregory Clark, R-Vergennes, right, and Rep. Kurt Wright, R-Burlington, listen to debate on a health care bill in the Vermont House in Montpelier in 2010. Clark was killed when he was hit by a car along Route 7 on Friday.
MONTPELIER — Elected officials of all political stripes are mourning the death of Rep. Gregory Clark, the five-term Republican from Vergennes killed in a traffic accident Friday morning.
Police say Clark was killed on Route 7 in Waltham early Friday morning after he stepped out his car to clear his windshield and was struck by another vehicle.
As law enforcement officials pieced together the circumstances surrounding the deadly incident, Clark’s House colleagues recalled his compassion for his constituents, and the humor with which he often advocated on their behalf.
“He was a great guy who really cared about Vermonters, and in particular young Vermonters, and making sure they had the tools they needed to be successful,” said Democratic House Speaker Shap Smith.
Rep. Johanna Leddy Donovan, chairwoman of the House Education Committee on which Clark served, called him one of the “most popular” members of the entire body.
“Everyone knew him at least a little bit because he was always this very hale and hearty and humorous fellow and always fun to be around,” Donovan said.
Donovan, a Burlington Democrat, said she grew close with Clark over the six years they served on the same committee. In addition to being a legislator, Clark, 65, worked as a teacher at Mount Abraham Union High School in Bristol.
Donovan said Clark, survived by his wife and two children, used his own checkered academic past to underscore the importance of the work for which their education committee was responsible.
“He would regale us with his own personal story of being, not unlike me, a kind of unmotivated student in his day,” Donovan said.
Donovan said it was a professor at Sterling College who helped Clark discover his love of education. He would go on to get his teaching degree at Johnson State College.
Donovan said Clark brought a fiscally conservative perspective to committee deliberations.
“He always was very aware of dollars and cents and he always felt we could deliver a quality education at a price we could afford,” she said.
House Minority Leader Don Turner called Clark a key member of the Republican caucus. While Clark specialized in education bills, Turner said, he was rhetorically adept enough to carry the floor debate on any issue.
“He was very comfortable and confident about speaking on the floor, so I could go to him on any key issue, give him a little background information, and ask him to get involved,” Turner said. “It’s incredibly hard to find someone well-spoken and smart enough to get up there and talk intelligently in any arena.”
A severe heart attack suffered in early 2011 kept Clark away from Montpelier for most of the first half of the last biennium.
“We all just desperately missed him and would make occasional calls from the committee room to him as part of our formal business and he always cheered us up,” Donovan said.
Gov. Peter Shumlin called Clark a selfless public servant whose friendship he will miss.
“I was deeply saddened to hear about the passing this morning of Rep. Greg Clark, and my heart goes out to his wife, Eileen, and their children,” Shumlin said in a written statement. “Greg always put the needs of his constituents first in his Statehouse work, and was committed to improving schools for Vermont’s children as a teacher and member of the House Education Committee. More than anything, I will miss Greg’s smile, his sense of humor and his friendship at the Statehouse.”
As per state law, Shumlin will appoint someone to fill out the remainder of Clark’s term. A committee of Republicans from his district will nominate three possible replacements, from which Shumlin will be asked to select one. Given the circumstances, Turner said he assumes Shumlin will choose from one of the three names, though he is not required by law to do so.
Clark died shortly after being struck by a vehicle at about 7:30 a.m. Friday. Emergency crews tried to resuscitate him on the scene; however, he was pronounced dead after being transported by ambulance to Porter Hospital in Vergennes.
According to police, Clark was traveling southbound on Route 7 when he pulled over and exited his 2001 Subaru Forester to clear his windshield. A passing motorist named Todd Garthaffner pulled over, stopped in front of Clark, and suggested he should move out of the roadway because of poor visibility. Clark then got back into his car to move it farther onto the shoulder before getting out again to continue clearing the windshield, police said.
A short time later, according to police, a southbound vehicle driven by Rolf Trinker, 74, of Ferrisburgh, struck Clark while he was standing outside his vehicle. Garthaffner suffered minor injuries in the crash, according to police. Trinker was uninjured.
While Clark’s unexpected passing will deal a blow to the Legislature, Smith said he believes the loss will bring members closer together.
“It tends to bring the body together,” Smith said. “People just remember that we’re part of a larger family. And this kind of loss serves to remind people what’s important and not to sweat the small stuff.”
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