Dick Clark, the esteemed American politician who represented Iowa in the United States Senate, had a partner who played an essential role in his life and career. Julie Kennett, his wife, shared in his journey, offering support and companionship throughout their shared experiences.
Born on September 14, 1928, in Paris, Iowa, Dick Clark led a remarkable life dedicated to public service and politics. After graduating from Lamont High School in 1947, he enlisted in the U.S. Army, serving in Europe during the Korean War. His military service took him to the University of Maryland, Wiesbaden, and the University of Frankfurt from 1950 to 1952. There, he furthered his education, setting the stage for his future endeavors.
Clark’s academic pursuits led him to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1953 from Upper Iowa University. He continued his educational journey, attaining a Master’s degree in 1956 from the University of Iowa. His passion for knowledge and learning eventually propelled him into a career in education.
He became a professor at Upper Iowa University, where he not only imparted knowledge to students but also engaged in active involvement with the Democratic Party. His dedication extended to collecting names, addresses, and phone numbers of party members, a critical effort to connect with voters on election day and drive them to the polls. In an area typically dominated by Republicans, Clark’s grassroots organizing yielded Democratic victories, showcasing his political acumen.
Clark’s commitment to the Democratic Party and his ability to mobilize supporters caught the attention of attorney John Culver from Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Culver enlisted Clark to manage his congressional campaign in 1964, marking the beginning of their fruitful partnership. Following their successful campaign, Clark served as Culver’s administrative assistant, and together, they transformed the Iowa Democratic Party’s grassroots efforts.
Their work involved building a sophisticated voter turnout organization, evolving from handwritten index cards to computerized databases. This modernization had a profound impact on the Democratic Party’s presence and influence in the state.
In 1971, Culver contemplated running for the U.S. Senate, and he entrusted Clark with the task of establishing a campaign infrastructure across the state. However, as the campaign progressed, Culver determined that defeating incumbent Republican Senator Jack R. Miller would be an insurmountable challenge, leading him to withdraw from the race.
With campaign infrastructure in place and no other Democratic candidates in sight, Dick Clark made the pivotal decision to enter the race himself. His candidacy set the stage for one of the most remarkable political journeys in Iowa’s history.
The 1972 campaign was marked by Dick Clark’s extraordinary 1,300-mile walk across the state of Iowa, a bold and energetic move aimed at gaining publicity and connecting with voters. Despite initial polling that showed Clark trailing the incumbent by wide margins, his tireless efforts paid off in an upset victory. Clark secured 55% of the vote, with 662,637 votes, compared to Miller’s 44%, with 530,525 votes. Independent candidate William Rocap received 1% of the vote.
As a senator, Dick Clark consistently ranked among the most liberal in the Senate. He served on various committees, including the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, where he chaired the Subcommittee on Africa. His expertise on the crisis in Angola led him to author the Clark Amendment in 1976. This groundbreaking amendment prohibited U.S. government aid to private groups involved in military or paramilitary operations in Angola.
In 1978, Clark faced a challenging reelection campaign against Republican Roger Jepsen. Due to his outspoken stance against apartheid in South Africa, Jepsen nicknamed him “the Senator from Africa.” In a year that posed challenges for Democrats nationwide, Clark narrowly lost his bid for reelection.
Following his Senate tenure, President Jimmy Carter appointed Dick Clark as Ambassador at Large and United States Coordinator for Refugee Affairs in 1979. Later that year, he resigned from this position to join the presidential campaign of Ted Kennedy, a fellow senator with whom Clark had served.
In 1980, Dick Clark assumed the role of a senior fellow at the Aspen Institute for Humanistic Studies, where he organized seminars to educate members of Congress on policy issues. His work facilitated bipartisan cooperation and fostered valuable relationships between lawmakers from different political backgrounds.
Throughout his life, Julie Kennett stood by Dick Clark’s side, offering support and being an integral part of his personal and political journey. Together, they raised three children and navigated the challenges and triumphs of a life dedicated to public service.
On September 20, 2023, Dick Clark passed away at his Washington, D.C. home at the age of 95. His legacy as a dedicated public servant and a passionate advocate for critical causes continues to inspire those who knew him and the countless lives he touched during his extraordinary life and career.