The Mission: The Introduction to "The Judge: William P. Clark,
Ronald Reagan's Top Hand" | Paul Kengor and Patricia Clark Doerner | IgnatiusInsight.com
The Mission: The Introduction to The Judge: William P. Clark,
Ronald Reagan's Top Hand | Paul Kengor and Patricia Clark Doerner
On a spring day in 1988, William P. Clark--known by friends and
associates as "The Judge"--taxied into position on the dirt landing
strip of his thousand-acre ranch near Paso Robles, the heart of
California's Central Coast wine country. At age fifty-six, he was
substantially finished with government service and looking forward to
the ranch, working cattle, planting olive trees, and developing a
vineyard. Both orchard and vineyard would complement a Spanish
mission-style chapel--at this point no more than a dream, yet to be
Judge Clark, whose request to be called Bill goes mostly unheeded,
had left the Reagan administration three years earlier. He had
Ronald Reagan for more than twenty years, beginning when Reagan
ran for governor of California. During his two years as Reagan's
national security advisor, Clark was--next to the President--probably
the most powerful man in America, and thus among the most
powerful men in the world. Though no longer a regular presence at
Reagan's side, Clark continued to serve his country from the background
and to advance causes he had been unable to address during his public
On this day, as he prepared his tandem-seat Super Cub for takeoff,
his public career was mostly behind him. The night before, Clark had
returned from a trip to Europe. He felt jet-lagged, not especially
but his desk at the office in town was piled high with work.
Early into takeoff, the plane got caught in a crosswind. "I knew
right away that I was in trouble", says Clark. "I lost control." At
sixty miles per hour, the plane veered into a supply building to the
right of the runway, missing the above-ground fuel tanks outside the
building. Clark slumped unconscious in a mangled mess of smoking metal.
Ribs broken, shoulder separated, skull fractured, and soaked in blood
and fuel, he was alive but hardly out of danger.
The engine, simmering hot, was pushed back against his legs, while
fuel from the fractured wing tank sprayed onto the unconscious
For some reason, the plane failed to burst into flames. "It should
lit up", Clark says, pausing. "Statistically, it should have lit up--but
A briefcase on the seat next to Clark contained a Dictaphone somehow
activated in the course of the crash. The audiotape still survives;
Clark and his sons have listened to it, but wife Joan refuses. On
recording, listeners can hear the unconscious Clark groaning and calling
Clark's only coherent plea, "God, please help me!" is followed by
the sound of ripping metal. Jésus Muñoz, longtime ranch hand and
friend, had happened upon the crash and yanked the door from its
hinges. Clark's feet were entangled in the two rudder panels, jammed
beneath the engine. As Muñoz struggled to pull Clark free, fuel
over both men. Finally, pulling with all of his strength, Muñoz
Clark from the wreckage.
Clark remained unconscious for an hour-and-a-half before waking
in the intensive care unit at a hospital forty-five minutes from the
scene. While his sons watched, he cautiously moved his legs and
rotated his fingers and arms, and winced at the sharp pain in his
shoulder and head. He offered thanks to God that he had survived, that
he had been alone on the flight, and then he made a decision: He
no longer delay building the chapel. That brush with death, said
was "a little wake-up call in my life.... God's wake-up call." 
"Look," he says, "I'm no Saint Paul, but the incident helped me
decide to go ahead and build the chapel." Within a few years, the
chapel, financed solely by Clark, was completed on top of a grassy
at the entrance to his ranch. Incorporating a surplus ceiling and
remnants from the William Randolph Hearst collection at nearby San
Simeon and containing sacred art collected by Bill and Joan from
fourteenth- to seventeenth-century European monasteries, the chapel
hosts a number of religious services and cultural events throughout
the year. "Chapel Hill", as it is known locally, is open to those of all
faiths and is the pride of the local community, to which Clark has
Clark has come full circle. He started life as a young man on a
California ranch, and now closes it as a man in his seventies on a
ranch, where he proudly struggles with the progression of
disease. "God gave Parkinson's to such saints as John Paul II and my
he said, "and now he has gotten around to the sinners, such as
These sunset years are a time for reflecting on the past, as well as
for accepting what lies ahead. Though not without some regrets,
Clark may be allowed a proper amount of satisfaction in his public
record. During the Sacramento years, Clark was appointed Governor
Reagan's chief of staff at a time of scandal and crisis and helped
right the ship of state. When he thought his work done, he decided
was time to return to his ranch. The Governor then named him superior
court judge, later elevated him to the court of appeal and, finally,
appointed him justice of the California Supreme Court. After Reagan
ascended to the presidency, he requested that Clark go with him to
Washington, where Clark became his deputy secretary of state, then
national security advisor and, lastly, secretary of the interior.
Official Reagan biographer Edmund Morris dubbed Clark the "most
impressive" advisor in the Reagan White House and "the most important
and influential person in the first administration". An August 1983
Time magazine cover story entitled "The Man with the
Ear", informed the public that next to Reagan, Clark was the "most
powerful man in the White House", so close to Reagan, and so loyal
to and trusted by the President, that White House staff called him
Uncle Bill. 
"He was always there when my Dad needed him", says the former
President's oldest son, Michael. "He was very important to my dad's
And their relationship was more than political; they were good friends."
President Reagan himself told the press that Clark was "one of my
most trusted and valued advisers."  Again, "no one has given me more
faithful service above and beyond the call of duty."  When Reagan had
a tough task, he called upon Clark, his troubleshooter, his
man.  As photographs illustrate, Bill Clark was often literally at
right side, and always trying to fulfill the adage that he coined, "Let
be Reagan." No one was more inclined to let Reagan act on his
Nowhere was this more true than in determining policy in regard
to the Soviet Union. During two critical years as Reagan's national
security advisor, Clark helped lay the groundwork for the
administration's remarkable effort to undermine Soviet communism and win
Cold War. Another cover story at the time, in the New York Times
Magazine, noted that Clark was not only "the most influential
foreign-policy figure in the Reagan administration", but also "the
chief instrument" in confronting Soviet influence in the world. The
two of them, often alone, met to discuss some of the boldest and
successful actions of the entire Cold War. As the New York Times'
White House correspondent reported, colleagues observed Clark returning
from his private meetings with Reagan and prepared themselves
for the "important decisions" to come. 
Roger W. Robinson, Jr., a senior staff member at Clark's National
Security Council, stated categorically: "More than any others,
Reagan and Bill Clark won the Cold War. Period."  Thomas C. Reed,
another NSC staff member, agrees that Clark was "utterly essential" to
the strategy to prevail over the USSR. He says that Clark "put the
pieces in place to bring the Cold War to a conclusion .... Clark was
absolutely key to that."  Norman A. Bailey, yet another NSC
went so far as to say that America "owes a very great debt" to
who "did more than any other individual to help the President change
the course of history and put an end to an empire that was, indeed, 'the embodiment of evil.' "  Ronald Reagan himself told Clark at
the height of the Cold War: "All of us owe you a great debt ....
for being there, as you always are." 
And yet, the indispensable Clark became the forgotten man--as
Edmund Morris recorded, "so private, quiet, and unflamboyant that
he's now largely forgotten".  He was forgotten in part because
never promoted himself. Said former Secretary of Defense and longtime Reagan aid Caspar Weinberger:
"He was one of the most influential people in Washington, enormously important to Reagan's goals
and success, as governor and then as president, but you'd never hear
that from Bill or even know it in the way he acted." 
Reagan biographer Lou Cannon also remarked on Clark's self-effacing
nature. "[Clark] did more for Reagan ... while calling less
attention to himself than anyone else I know."  In its 50th
anniversary issue, National Review listed Clark among a select
group of leading "unsung conservatives", while emphasizing that Clark
most significant Reagan ally not to have written a memoir". 
What is the reason Clark has neglected to record his accomplishments for
posterity? Clark is the prototypical man of the West who
one day saddled his horse and drifted off into the sunset, exiting
Washington with no fanfare and no one watching.
As he had no interest in promoting himself, Clark's contributions
have not been fully reported. Many of his actions in the 1980s have
remained secret, particularly his Cold War communications with Pope
John Paul II and his meetings with Margaret Thatcher, François
Mitterrand, Saddam Hussein, and others.
Bill Clark and his mission have gone unheralded, which was the
way he wanted it. At long last, this is the story.
 Clark, "Alumni Spotlight/Q&A", Vista Magazine, p. 19.
 Maureen Dowd, "The Man with the President's Ear", Time,
August 8, 1983.
 Interview with Michael Reagan, May 9, 2005.
 Reagan, "Remarks Announcing the Appointment of Robert C. McFarlane
as Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs", Public
Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Ronald Reagan,
October 17, 1983, p. 1471.
 Reagan wrote this to Clark in a February 8, 1985 letter on White
 Brown, who is West Coast director of the Young America's Foundation,
owns and manages the Reagan Ranch, notes that next to Nancy Reagan,
Clark was Reagan's "single closest friend and confidant--and everyone
knows that! ... Whenever the president had a tough job, look who got
it--Bill Clark." Peter Dailey, a Reagan-appointed U.S. Ambassador to
Ireland who has known Clark since high school, agrees: "Whenever the
going got tough, Reagan always wanted Bill Clark around." Interviews
with Floyd Brown,
October 5, 2005, and with Peter Dailey, January 17, 2006.
 The article stated: "Colleagues observe Mr. Clark ambling back from
his private meetings with Mr. Reagan and wonder what important decisions
are coming that might catch
them by surprise." Steven R. Weisman, "The Influence of William Clark",
Times Magazine, August 14, 1983.
 Interview with Roger Robinson, June 6 and 8 and July 7, 2005.
Robinson adds: "That's
not to say that Cap Weinberger, Bill Casey, Ed Meese, Jeane Kirkpatrick
and others were
not major, integral players .... There were many who were crucial to
this huge enterprise.
But at the end of the day you really had to rely on Bill to carry the
water with the
president. The extraordinary relationship and implicit trust between
these two men was
the force multiplier that implemented strategy a secret multipronged
that led to the collapse of the Soviet Union and its empire. No question
about it." Interviews with Roger
Robinson, June 6 and 8, 2005.
 Interview with Tom Reed, April 6, 2005.
 Norman A. Bailey, The Strategic Plots That Won the Cold War:
National Security Decision Directive 75 (McLean, VA: The Potomac
Foundation, 1999), p. i.
 This November 7, 1983 statement from Reagan on White House
letterhead is held by Clark in his files.
 Edmund Morris interviewed by The American Enterprise,
 Interview with Cap Weinberger, April 14, 2005.
 Cannon quoted in: "Unsung Conservatives: Fifteen Who Made a
Difference", National Review, December 19, 2005, p. 33.
 "Unsung Conservatives: Fifteen Who Made a Difference", National
Review, December 19, 2005, p. 33.
Visit The Judge website for further information, praise, and more.
Paul Kengor is the acclaimed author of the best-selling books God and Ronald Reagan, God and George W. Bush, and
The Crusader: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of Communism. He is a professor of Political Science at Grove City College, and is
a frequent contributor to MSNBC, C-SPAN, NPR, FOX NEWS.
Patricia Clark Doerner, 4th generation Ojai rancher, is a writer, historian and community activist, with a B.A.
(English Literature) from the University of California and a graduate degree (Anglo-Irish Literature) from University College
Dublin. She has taught at the University of California at Santa Barbara and at Cal State University, Northridge and publishes
and lectures on local history and the history of Ireland.
the Insight Scoop Blog and read the latest posts and comments by
IgnatiusInsight.com staff and readers about current events, controversies,
and news in the Church!