Jack G. Clarke, LL.B. ’52, a devoted alumnus and benefactor and a transformative figure in the history of Cornell Law School, died April 26. He was 91.
As a lawyer and oil company executive, Clarke had a special interest in business law and the culture of the Middle East. At Cornell, he was a presidential councillor and one of only two life members of the Cornell Law School Dean’s Advisory Council. He was named a Cornell Law School Distinguished Alumnus in 1991.
“The Cornell Law School and Cornell University communities have benefited immeasurably, over more than 60 years, from Jack Clarke’s dedicated involvement and inspiring philanthropy. He was a true friend to Cornell, and we will miss him greatly,” said Cornell President Martha E. Pollack.
Clarke made numerous landmark gifts to the Law School, naming centers, programs, professorships and scholarships. In 2007, his $5 million gift founded the Jack G. Clarke Institute for the Study and Practice of Business Law. It remains the largest single investment in business law in the history of the Law School.
“Jack Clarke was a man of thoughtfulness, grace and vision, and one of Cornell Law School’s dearest friends,” said Eduardo M. Peñalver ’94, the Allan R. Tessler Dean and Professor of Law. “For several decades, successive Cornell Law School deans – including me – called upon Jack for his insight and guidance. And Jack was always forthcoming, delivering his advice with his trademark wisdom and good humor.
“Cornell Law School was never far from Jack’s mind,” Peñalver said. “I will miss the news clippings he would send me from time to time, or the phone calls we would have after he read an article about the challenges confronting legal education. In terms of his impact on Cornell Law School, Jack Clarke stands in rare company. No one has done more to cement Cornell Law School’s commitment to global engagement.”
President Emeritus David Skorton said: “Jack was an exceptionally kind and thoughtful man. I valued his input, respected his modesty and enjoyed his sense of humor. He was generous with his leadership and counsel, and deeply committed to the Cornell Law School, where his philanthropy has been transformational. The entire Cornell community will miss Jack Clarke and his many thoughtful contributions.”
In 2017, in celebration of Clarke’s 90th birthday and in recognition of his leadership and philanthropy, Cornell Law School commissioned and hung in Myron Taylor Hall a portrait of Clarke – one of only four alumni to be so honored.
Clarke earned an LL.M. in international law in 1953 from Harvard Law School. He began his career as an attorney at Sullivan & Cromwell in New York City and went on to become an attorney in the oil industry – first in the law department of Creole Petroleum Corp. (a Venezuelan subsidiary of what was then Standard Oil of New Jersey) and subsequently at Exxon Corp. in New York City.
Clarke’s career at Exxon spanned more than three decades and gave him extensive experience in the Persian Gulf and the Arabian Peninsula. He worked as a director and negotiator for Exxon with representatives of oil-producing nations including Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Libya and the United Arab Emirates.
At Cornell, he chaired the Rudolf B. Schlesinger Fellowship fund and co-chaired the 1986-89 capital campaign for the expansion and renovation of Myron Taylor Hall.
He later made gifts that expanded the scope of the Clarke Center for International and Comparative Legal Studies. In 2002, he named the Clarke Program in East Asian Law and Culture; and in 2009 he named the Clarke Initiative for Law and Development in the Middle East and North Africa.
He also donated funding for several professorships, including the Jack G. Clarke Chair in Far East Legal Studies; the Jack G. Clarke Professor of International and Comparative Law; and the Dorothea S. Clarke Professor of Feminist Jurisprudence, named for his first wife.
Clarke was deeply interested in the evolving life of the school and asked thoughtful and engaging questions, said Stewart Schwab, the Jonathan and Ruby Zhu Professor of Law and the Law School’s Allan R. Tessler Dean from 2004-14.
“As his traveling companion to Thailand, China, Korea, Japan, Israel, Egypt and elsewhere, I came to know Jack well,” Schwab said. “He was invariably gracious and interested in other people, and a great judge of character. Jack was humble and modest, although on occasion he could tell excellent stories about the adventures in his life.
“Thanks to his generosity,” Schwab said, “the name of Jack Clarke will forever be intertwined with Cornell Law School. He will be missed, but his spirit lives on.”
Clarke is survived by his wife, Grace, two sons, a daughter, six grandsons and five great-grandchildren.