Former Iowa Senator Dick Clark Passes Away at Age 95: A Look Back at His Remarkable Life and Career
Dick Clark, a Democrat who represented Iowa in the U.S. Senate from 1973 to 1979, passed away peacefully at the age of 95 at his home in Washington, D.C. The news of his passing marks the end of a remarkable life and career in American politics.
Clark’s journey into the political arena was marked by an extraordinary 1972 campaign where he walked across the state of Iowa, meeting voters one-on-one. In a year when Republicans Richard Nixon and Robert Ray secured victories in Iowa’s presidential and gubernatorial elections, respectively, Clark’s triumph over two-term Republican incumbent Sen. Jack Miller was a significant moment in Iowa’s political history.
Bill Roach, a former staffer for Clark during his campaign and tenure in the Senate, recalled Clark’s fundamental kindness, saying, “I think doing that walk across the state really allowed that kindness to show in a media environment and in a political environment that we don’t have today.”
The decision to embark on the unique campaign walk was born out of necessity. Facing a well-funded and widely recognized incumbent in Miller, Clark’s campaign needed an innovative approach. The walk covered various stretches along Highway 30, attracting Iowans from all corners of the state to join Clark for a mile or two. It was a “kind of magical” experience, according to Roach.
Clark’s efforts bore fruit, resulting in a victory with 55.1% of the vote, compared to Miller’s 44.1%. Independent candidate William Rocap garnered about 1% of the vote.
In the Senate, Clark made significant contributions through his involvement in committees such as Agriculture, Public Works, and Foreign Relations. His work on the Foreign Relations Committee, where he chaired a subcommittee overseeing Africa, was particularly noteworthy. In this role, he advocated for an end to apartheid in South Africa, leading congressional delegations to the continent and meeting with Black leaders who opposed apartheid.
However, Clark’s stance against apartheid came with challenges. The South African government was alleged to have illegally spent $250,000 to defeat him in his reelection race, as revealed by South Africa’s information secretary, Eschel Rhoodie. Clark also authored the “Clark Amendment,” which aimed to prevent the covert funding of anti-communist guerrilla groups in Angola by the U.S. government. Although the amendment was repealed in 1985, it showcased Clark’s commitment to foreign policy issues.
Despite his dedication and accomplishments, Clark faced a setback in his 1978 reelection race, losing to Republican U.S. Sen. Roger Jepsen. Nevertheless, he remained a respected figure in Iowa and beyond.
Former U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin, a Democrat who succeeded Jepsen, remembered Clark as a “low-key, earnest, hardworking Iowan” who was well-liked by everyone. Clark’s journey from being an administrative assistant to then-U.S. Rep. John Culver to becoming a senator and ambassador underscored his dedication to public service.
Beyond politics, Clark’s contributions extended to education and fostering bipartisan relationships. He organized overseas trips for lawmakers to meet foreign officials, learn about other countries, and build friendships across party lines—a valuable service that benefited both Republicans and Democrats.
Dick Clark, born in Paris, Iowa, in 1928, had a deep appreciation for education and served in the U.S. Army from 1950 to 1952, stationed in Europe. He went on to graduate from Upper Iowa University in 1953, earning advanced degrees from the University of Iowa.
Clark is survived by his wife, Julie Kennett Clark, three children, three grandchildren, and two great-grandsons.
His legacy as a dedicated public servant and a tireless advocate for important causes will be remembered and celebrated by those whose lives he touched during his remarkable journey in American politics.