The Royal Orders has been growing steadily since it was first formed in 1999. However, a couple of weeks ago with the death of Sir John Clark, K.O.W its membership experienced a small but significant decrease.
Sir John had been battling pancreatic cancer for much of 2007. He lost the battle Sunday morning January 20.
Sir John began his chairmaking with sack back in August 2004. He was accompanied to that class by his teen aged son Geoff. Father and son took the March 2006 Nantucket fan back together, as well. Geoff is what old timers would have called a strapping lad. He wrestled heavy weight on his high school team, and none of his tall frame was fat.
Sir John was a hands-off companion for his son. In other words, the two worked side by side building their chairs, but Sir John would never butt in or say to Geoff “Do it this way.”
Geoff finally went off to college, and Sir John continued to take chair classes on his own. However, each time he returned he kept me updated on Geoff’s life.
In 2006 Sir John had joined us for the November settee class. Around June 2007 I received a call from Sir John’s wife Sharon, inquiring as to availability for the August c-arm class. She told me Sir John had been struggling with pancreatic cancer, which had been diagnosed a while after his last visit. I was stunned, as he had been quite healthy at the settee class.
Sharon told me that knowing the odds he faced, Sir John had expressed his desire to become a Knight of Windsor. He still needed c-arm to complete the curriculum, and the only date was the August class. I told her I had space, but even if I had not, I would have blown out a wall to make it.
Sharon said she could not foretell how much strength Sir John would have in August, as it depended on so many factors, such his treatment regimen. However she said that if necessary, she would come with him and help him make it. I told her she was more than welcome to come, but I and the staff would be sure Sir John had any help he needed, should his strength flag.
Sir John arrived for the class. He had lost weight and he was more subdued than he had been during previous visits. I took the opportunity to talk with him during the week and concluded that while he was in good humor, he was husbanding his strength. During the week, staff members, Susanna, and guys who knew John from previous classes all took turns spending time with him. I know these are memories that will now take on added importance for us.
As usual, knightings occur Thursday afternoons. Sir John was one of four to join the Orders that day. When he descended and assumed his position before the throne, I offered to have him sit on a stool. However, he declined and knelt through the antics that make up a Royal Orders ceremony.
Sharon had arrived to observe. She planned on staying at Lamie’s Inn with Sir John, and returning home the next day. Like all wives watching their husbands knighted Sharon availed herself of the opportunity to take lots of pictures and to draw out the Long Kiss as much as possible. Sharon stayed with Sir John through the rest of the afternoon and took advantage of the relative quiet of The Institute’s library to catch up on her work. She and the newly minted Sir John had dinner together that evening. Of course, Sir John received lots of advice from his fellow knights about how women really dig a man in armor, and that he should wear his helmet and sword at dinner.
The last time I saw and spoke to Sir John was as he prepared to leave on Friday afternoon after graduation. However, I did speak with Sharon again. She called around October inquiring about space in the November Philly high back class. She said that the c-arm class had been the best therapy Sir John had experienced. He returned home energized and excited. She wanted him to have that boost yet another time. I told her I had space, but again if not I would blow out a wall to make it.
Sharon said she would get back to me after speaking with Sir John. I did not hear back. I assumed that was not a good sign. Around Christmas I found a message from Sharon on the answering machine. She apologized for not getting calling again, and wished us a happy Christmas season. I waited until the holidays were past to call her back. Very early in the conversation, I inquired about Sir John. She said he had not had a good autumn. I was stunned when she told me that at that moment hospice was with him. I could find no words other than, “I am so sorry.” And I repeated it over and over. Then, Sharon and I cried together.
She told me the kids were there with her and that the family was doing a lot of laughing. They were sharing, the stores, the memories, and the experiences all happy families have. She said that Sir John had some chairs under way that Geoff would have to complete for him. I told her I would help Geoff do that in anyway I could.
Our conversation ended with good wishes for each other and my request she keep me posted. Last week, while I was out of work because of my shoulder surgery, Sharon left the sad news on the answering machine. Unfortunately, I did not receive it for several days.
Sir John was a good guy. He was not laconic, but his humor was straight faced and ironic, as opposed to my laugh-out-loud, farcical approach to life. Sir John was the guy who reduced the room to laughter with a dead-pan one liner.
Sir John had his values in order. He was obviously first and foremost a husband and father. He was a veterinarian and ran his own practice. Susanna is the type of pet owner who is certain that every sneeze made by one of our dogs is the first symptom of something terrible. Sir John was always willing to look over our dogs and reassure her they were fine. We rescued Angus, our white boxer the weekend before the 2006 settee class. Angus’ first day at The Institute coincided with Sir John’s first day of class. At Susanna’s request, he examined Angus and told her his skin condition was mange. He also gave her advice on how to bring the badly malnourished boxer back to good health.
The world needs more Sir John Clarks, but instead we have one less. This makes me think of the line from John Donne’s poem. “Ask not for whom the bell tolls. It tolls for thee.” The baleful bell ringing for Sir John really tolls for us, as his departure is our loss. We are all diminished by losing him.
A memorial trophy for fallen members of the Royal Orders hangs on The Institute’s library wall. It is made of a shield, sword, and helmet. Under the trophy is a plaque with the names of those we have lost. Sir John’s name will be added there.
Sir John always staked out vise #2, the corner closest the door on the green bench. Not yet being in the Royal Orders, he was not entitled to reserve the vise, so he stowed his gear there as soon as he arrived on Monday mornings. As a knight, Sir John now has the privilege of reserving the vise of his choice. As King of Windsor I am issuing a royal proclamation that henceforth, vise #2 is reserved for Sir John Clark K.O.W in perpetuity. Other people are welcome to use it, but if he ever wants to be stationed at that vise during a class, it belongs to Sir John.
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