To say that Bill Clark – Dr. William Henry Harrison Clark, to be more specific – has lived a whirlwind of a life would be an understatement of some proportion.
Clark is a doctor of veterinary medicine, licensed in three states, and holds a master’s degree in public health with a specialty in tropical diseases. He served in the U.S. Army for nearly 30 years, retiring as a colonel. His military service took him to Washington, Texas, Germany, Iran, South Korea, and to Washington, D.C., for 15 years.
Back home in Ringgold, the fifth-generation Catoosa County citizen threw himself into politics and a host of projects. He’s written three books, two on the history of Catoosa County and one on the history of the U.S. Army Veterinary Corps in Vietnam during the years 1962-1973.
Clark became the third generation of his family to serve as a Georgia state representative (1996-2000). He served as chair of the Catoosa County Board of Commissioners from 2005 to 2009 and served on numerous boards. But that still wasn’t enough to keep his restless soul occupied.
Other projects and ventures to which Clark devoted himself after retirement included helping to found Gateway Bank and Trust, serving as president of the Catoosa County Historical Society and the Ringgold Depot Preservation Corp, serving as finance officer, board member and historian for the local American Legion Post, and managing the family businesses devoted to real estate development, stocks, bonds and timber.
That’s an extremely brief summary of Clark – his life in abbreviated résumé form. But every life is really best told and even understood in its anecdotes. Clark is good at telling them and has plenty to share.
"I remember," says Clark, "in the early days of the American Legion Post in Ringgold, we weren’t real organized and didn’t have much to work with. Then they outlawed BINGO in Tennessee and we thought that might be an opportunity."
Clark and some of his Veteran buddies set to learning about BINGO. "We didn’t know a thing about it," he says, "but we figured it out. We got all the equipment we needed and put out word that we’d be holding a BINGO game. We agreed among ourselves that we would cover the prizes if we didn’t take in enough money."
They needn’t have worried. The group netted $5,000 the first game. And the next and the next. The pattern continued for several years, and the Post was able to purchase a new building for cash, with a substantial amount of money left.
Bill Clark was born in Ringgold in 1936. "Laughing gas had just been discovered as an anesthetic," he says. "The doctor and my dad enjoyed it while my mother was trying to have a baby." Under the influence of the nitrous oxide, Clark’s father and the doctor made a bet – if the baby was a boy, his father paid nothing. If it was a girl he paid double. "After it was over, Doc welched on the bet and Mother never forgave either of them."
Clark’s boyhood was full of animals. There was Muffin the Shetland pony, who managed to pass under the bottom rail of a fence with Clark astride. Bonnie was a favorite – a mare. Bonnie had a colt the family named Popeye. "Dad taught him to drink Coke by holding the bottle in his teeth." There was the contrary milk cow with TB. Clark says he and his brother still test positive for TB. And there were many family dogs.
Swimming and fishing were high on the entertainment list for Clark and his friends. "Every deep place in the creek had a name," says Clark. "'Government Bridge’ in our pasture was the most popular." Clark says it was not uncommon for the Baptist church to kick the kids out of their swimming spot on a Sunday afternoon to conduct baptisms, at which point the hooligans would sometimes go upstream and "pollute the water."
"We tried about every means of fishing," says Clark. "We seined, used hooks, trout lines, crank telephones, dynamite and cherry bombs. We were more endangered than the fish."
The RINGO movie theater came to Ringgold in 1939. "Everyone would go to town on Saturdays and they’d send us kids to the movies at 2 p.m. to get rid of us." Clark says a movie was nine cents and popcorn cost a nickel. "First you got to see advertisements, then a serial of Flash Gordon. There would be at least one comedy, news, previews of coming attractions, then the main feature – often a cowboy movie. You could yell and scream as much as you wished. In the middle of the movie, they would stop it and take up a collection for the polio drive."
During World War II, when the country was mobilizing to fight and possibly defend itself, Clark was still a young boy. He watched as his friends moved away because their fathers had been drafted. The women gathered at the courthouse to learn first aid and roll bandages. "Mother took me along. They needed someone on which to practice their bandaging. Since I was little and unable to protect myself, I was elected. When they were through, I looked like a mummy."
Clark remembers the German POW camp in Fort Oglethorpe. "The Army would bring POWs to my granddad’s 400 acres of woods and they would dig up dogwood trees to plant inside the park along Boynton Drive."
The Clark family had its hand in many businesses – farming, livestock, a hardware store and a sausage factory, to name just a few. One year, when the family was raising cotton, "Georgia Power came along and sprayed something to kill vegetation along the power lines. The wind changed and killed our cotton crop, as well. Made more money off that cotton crop than any other."
School was a mixed bag for Clark. "I was one miserable little boy in fourth, fifth and sixth grades." In seventh grade, Clark learned he could make his teachers miserable and set about doing it. It continued into eighth grade. One day, when he was running from someone, he hid under the librarian’s desk. "She was a little girl right out of college. She came in and pulled up her chair and caught my head between her knees. The sound that came out of her can only be described as a primordial scream – the sound one makes before being eaten by a T-Rex."
Another time, Clark and his friends opened the principal’s window after hours and filled the room with cats. He and one buddy got into trouble for competing with the school cafeteria by bringing sausage from the family’s plant, a five-pound block of cheese, and crackers and selling "cracker sandwiches" for five cents each.
Fast forward a number of years. Clark decided to become a veterinarian. He attended Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College and the University of Georgia, then Tulane University. He got married, joined the Army, and the adventures continued. As part of the U.S. Army Veterinary Corps, he did everything from caring for sentry dogs to conducting research and running vet clinics. He drew up medical plans for first-aid, evacuation, hospitalization, supplies and equipment for the invasion of Iraq.
From 1967 to 1968, Clark cared for 32 horses that were being prepared for the Olympics at the U.S. Modern Pentathlon Training Center. When an outbreak of Exotic Newcastle Disease hit poultry in Californian, the state requested the assistance of the USDA, which called in the Veterinary Corps. Clark supervised the 40 military veterinarians helping bring the disease under control.
Bill Clark has packed a lot into his 80-plus years and he’s still going strong. You can find him most Saturday afternoons at the Old Stone Church in Ringgold, where you can also purchase his books.