Larry Clark, a former Rancho Palos Verdes mayor and California coastal commissioner who waged a public battle against pancreatic cancer for more than five years and became an inspirational ambassador for the nonprofit group the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, died Wednesday. He was 69.
As word of his passing spread Thursday, friends and former colleagues paid tribute to a man best known in the community for spending two terms on the City Council, including two years as mayor, and dealing with “complicated issues with panache and good humor,” said Barbara Dye, former executive director of the Palos Verdes Peninsula Land Conservancy.
“I remember how he was able to talk to disparate community members in a way that made them feel part of the process even though they didn’t always get what they wanted,” Dye recalled. “He looked and talked like a mayor, and he loved being one, even when he was just a council member.
“He was so effective during the campaign to create the (Palos Verdes) Nature Preserve, pushing past difficulties and finding consensus among those involved,” Dye added. “He was so determined, so positive, making a contribution to the end. I remember how much he loved whatever he did, how he threw himself into it, how he knew he could do a terrific job.”
Rancho Palos Verdes Mayor Susan Brooks and Rolling Hills Estates Councilman Frank Zerunyan both said Thursday their city councils will adjourn their next meetings in his memory out of respect for his numerous contributions to the Palos Verdes Peninsula, a unique region he loved passionately.
Clark’s two decades of public service was marked by thoughtful decision-making, delivered in his trademark authoritative tone that resonated throughout the room. He was a diplomatic public speaker who didn’t always embrace brevity, but made his point of view known firmly and with clarity, always cognizant of the effect his words or actions may have on the community
Clark also had a distinguished 40-year career with the federal government managing critical national and international defense space, communications, and information systems for the Air Force, Department of Defense, National Reconnaissance Office and North Atlantic Treaty Organization, spending time with the latter organization at its Brussels headquarters.
“He managed some of the Air Force’s most sophisticated contracts valued in the billions of dollars,” said a statement from Bill and Cathy Maikisch, who were friends with Clark for 45 years. “Larry was also a heavy hitter as a leader in his community. It was his leadership and desire to make a difference that made him a man for all seasons.”
Determined cancer survivor
In his final years after his cancer diagnosis, Clark became an avid spokesman and volunteer for the Manhattan Beach office of the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network.
A five-year survivor of stage 4 pancreatic cancer who endured nine recurrences of the particularly virulent form of the disease, Clark was honored at the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network’s “Evening with the Stars” gala in 2013 when he received the organization’s Spirit of Hope Award, according to a biography provided by the group.
The following year, Clark, for whom purple became a favorite color he wore as a badge of honor, was appointed one of five national ambassadors as an inaugural member of the Ambassadors Circle for the nonprofit group and was a frequent and oft-requested public speaker.
He proudly credited his “dream team” of doctors for his ability to beat the odds to survive the cancer as long as he did.
Clark possessed an irreverent sense of humor and loved doting on his two beloved corgis, Milo and Katie. He also enjoyed a good meal and a glass of wine (or two) at one of his favorite places, Terrenea Resort, the spectacular coastal development that Clark proudly helped shepherd through the city entitlement process after many fits and starts.
Born Jan. 19, 1949, in Orange, Clark earned bachelor’s degrees in psychology and sociology from Cal State Fullerton and an MBA from Cal State Dominguez Hills.
He was first elected to the City Council in 2001 and spent eight years on the panel. Before that, he served on the city’s volunteer View Commission and Planning Commission.
Major issues including dealing with then real estate mogul Donald Trump, who purchased what was known as Ocean Trails Golf Course before its 18th hole slid into the Pacific Ocean and then slid into bankruptcy itself. Trump purchased the property dirt cheap and proceeded to give the conservative community fits by erecting a massive flagpole topped by an equally giant Stars and Stripes, which many thought was at best out of place in the scenic area and at worse illegal.
During his tenure he also spearheaded term limits on the City Council and backed a tax the landslide-prone city used to rebuild its storm drain network.
Clark was twice appointed to the California State Coastal Commission, serving on the panel from 2005 to 2009.
Clark was married for 24 years to his wife, Becky, an attorney for the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles whom he regarded as his best friend; Clark always said he married up and meant it.
The couple married on Jan. 16, 1994, at La Venta Inn in Palos Verdes Estates, exactly 12 hours before the Northridge earthquake.
“On our honeymoon night we trudged down an unlit stairwell wrapped in blankets as our hotel in Redondo Beach was (built) on (a former landfill) and had significant issues,” his wife recalled. “In true Larry fashion, he loved to tell the story of his wedding night.”
Memorial services are pending.