KEN CLARKE —A Man for all Seasons
By Zofia Barisas
Ken Clarke (1938 – 2012) was born in Aldershot, Hampshire, England. The family moved to Bodmin, Cornwall when he was three. His love of Cornwall remained with him all his life. At 16 he went to the School of Navigation in Plymouth from which he graduated as an apprentice officer. He spent the next seven years in the merchant navy with Canadian Pacific Line. When the shipping season closed for the winter he worked as an officer on Canadian Pacific cruise ships.
He met his wife, Lise Godbout, in the New York City harbor where his cruise ship was docked, ready to set sail for the Caribbean Islands. Ken was standing at the top of the gangway, with another officer, greeting arriving passengers when he saw Lise coming up with a girlfriend. He fell in love at first sight. They married soon after in 1962. They had just celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary when Ken died of a heart attack at Salvador’s restaurant in Ajijic. The romantic story of how they met and how he proposed is in his book Seven Years a Mariner.
Soon after the marriage Ken got a job on the Montreal harbor, Quebec, with B&K Shipping Co. From there he moved on to start his own shipping container company into which he poured all his energy and made a success and which he sold in the 1990’s and retired. As in everything else he did, he researched what would be the best place for him and Lise to live. He considered South America, flew to Brazil, researched Portugal, looked into Mexico – Puerto Vallarta, Ajijic – fell in love with a big house in Villa Nova, with great views of lake, garden, swimming pool, tool cabin, another house on the grounds, put a deposit on it, flew home and told Lise he’d found the place where they would retire and that she would love it. And she did. They moved to Ajijic in 1999.
Ken loved beauty: in the young woman he married, in the house he bought, in the time-share in Puerto Vallarta, in the furnishings and art he bought for their house, the rows of beautifully bound books, the expensive equipment he bought when he took up photography, the expensive equipment he bought when he took up carpentry, the equipment he bought when he took up writing.
He researched in depth every new interest, talked to carpenters and watched them work. He knew no strangers. Everybody was a friend. After he mastered an interest he moved on to another. He liked obscure topics in his writing, ancient wars in Afghanistan, the search for the Holy Grail. He wrote poetry in the style of Rudyard Kipling. He had a good singing voice. Whatever he chose to do and research – he loved doing research – he did well. And the knowledge he accumulated he shared with open generosity and limitless patience. He helped me many times with my computer and to set up my Kindle.
He talked a lot. But he also listened well without judgment and gave feedback from the heart, thoughtfully. In the times I spent with Ken and Lise I never heard them say anything negative about other people. Nor did I hear any gossip about them. Ken was, and Lise is, genuinely good people.
They had two daughters and one son. A daughter died in childhood from an incurable illness and the other daughter died in her forties in a head-on collision in California. It was a terrible blow to them. When I asked Ken some weeks later – not sure if my asking would be okay – how they were coping, he said: “I believe the body dies but the energy lives on. The energy that was her life lives on somewhere.” Ken’s brother and family flew over from Cornwall for the celebration of Ken’s life at the American Legion in Chapala. He also knew no strangers and had the same smiling friendly face and open disposition that Ken had.
Some people come and go and leave little mark of their passing. Ken was a friend, a big brother, always there for anybody who needed him. His energy touched the lives of those who knew him and loved him. He is missed. Lise lives on in the big house with her memories of the man she married when she was 23.