William Allen Clarke passed away at home in Moraga, California surrounded by family and friends at precisely 1:20pm on November 18, 2019 following a prolonged battle with cancer.
Born in Detroit, Michigan to Roberta and Richard Allen Clarke on September 30, 1957, Bill was the quintessential middle son—a soft spoken mediator flanked by brothers Richard and Robert, all outranked by older sister Janis. The young Clarke family moved their Midwest roots west, following their patriarch, a respected Mad Men-era creative art director, and settled in the Southern California suburb of La Canada.
All four kids grew up there, sun-kissed and creative, in a textbook California ranch home filled with music and art and literature, family heirlooms Bill held dear to his dying day. Every holiday was a production arranged with mid-century perfection by his mother and captured on film with painstaking artistry by his father. Weekends were spent at his big brother’s baseball games or at the beach, where he and brother Bob learned to surf—a hobby that would be a source of everlasting joy and serenity to Bill.
He graduated from La Canada High School in 1975 truly earning the moniker “Big Man on Campus,” a phrase oft repeated in yearbook inscriptions. A natural athlete, fiercely competitive yet kind, he was simultaneously an all-star pitcher on the baseball team and the star quarterback on his school’s football team. He was so beloved that they placed Bill’s football jersey in the rafters of the school’s gym after his senior year, and it hung there until some years later when his coach retired, retrieved it, and returned it to Bill. This is what he wore while watching soundless 8mm films of his time as a teenage Golden Boy on his final birthday.
From La Canada he went into the world, studying design at Long Beach State University while bartending (underage) and later attending the School of Visual Arts in New York. Bill brought beauty and balance to everything he touched, and his aesthetic matured while living abroad in Amsterdam and then Paris, France. He was always pen-in-hand: making lists, moving thoughts from page to page, and illustrating exquisite Christmas cards that now grace the walls of many, framed and treasured all-the-more with his passing.
He followed his father into the advertising business as a young art director in Corona Del Mar, California, further honing his skills at Ogilvy & Mather, Direct, New York, as an Art Director from 1985 to 1987. After working on a children’s animated TV show in Paris he joined his father’s agency, Robinson Clarke, in San Francisco as a Creative Director and became a principal by 1997, successfully steering the agency after Richard Clarke’s death a year later. It was during this time that he met and married the love of his life, Mary Vreeland, with whom he would have two remarkable children: Margaux and Carter. He next launched his own company called Eureka Partners in 2003, working here until the end—save for a stint as Vice-President Global Creative at Twentieth Century Fox Consumer Products. Bill spent his final years imparting what he knew about brand development and consumer product merchandising to the next generation of designers as a teacher at Academy of Art University.
If the measure of a man is the company he keeps, then William Clarke was as tall as the Eiffel Tower and as deep as the Pacific Ocean; every person he met became a lifelong friend. World traveler, art collector, wine enthusiast and foodie without artifice; an exceptional husband, father, brother, and uncle who loved the sound and spray of the sea. He was comfortable and stood out in any crowd, always with a twinkle in his eye as he told thoughtful stories, surrounded by people. There is no way to qualify what we gained by knowing him or what we’ve lost in losing him.
William Clarke was preceded in death by his parents, Richard and Bobbie (Carter) Clarke, as well as his sister, Janis (Clarke) Meldahl. He is survived by his brothers, Richard Clarke of Fallbrook and Robert Clarke of Solvang, as well as his wife, Mary Vreeland, and two children, Margaux and Carter, of Moraga. Interment will be at Mountain View Cemetery in Oakland, California with his sister, near their father. For those who would like to attend, there will be a viewing at the cemetery on November 23, 2019 (Saturday) from 4:00 – 6:00pm, with services at 10:30am and burial at 12:30pm on November 24, 2019 (Sunday). In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made to the American Cancer Society.