Clark Bouton, my neighbor, my friend, and my client, died on early on the morning of February 22, 2011 at the age of eighty at Denver Hospice. He was a neighbor not just in the sense of someone who lived half a block away, but in the sense of being almost family. Many of my readers at this blog knew him.
Clark was a retired philosophy professor. But, philosophy is a calling from which you never really retire. When I visited him at the hospice earlier this month, he was reading a monograph on philosophical pragmatism. The author, he joked with me, had written ten books basically arguing that philosophy was a bunch of bunk. He wasn't afraid to expose ideas he'd spent a long life accumulating to new challenges, even when he knew the end was near. He watched the democracy protests in Egypt unfold with a gleam in his eye at seeing the values he'd devoted his life to prevailing in the world.
Clark wasn't content to limit his philosophical endeavors to the ivory towers of France he'd prowled during his academic career. He put his principles into action. We walked blocks together distributing political materials in our precinct. He was active volunteering for the Colorado Progressive Coalition, particularly working to make health care more widely available for our community. He did leg work, helping to conduct community forums on health care across the state, while also providing behind the scenes strategic suggestions. He was a Democrat by political affiliation, but his politics were more in tune with those of the bold movement politics of the European left than they were with the triangulation, band aid solutions and short term political tactics that are so common in these days in American politics. He excelled at keeping his focus on what was important, rather than getting sidetracked by trivialities. Yet, despite his strongly held political beliefs, he knew about to enter into civil discourse and even friendships with conservative neighbors and political players, looking for common ground and respecting their personal dignity in an effort to find solutions that everyone who sincerely cared about the greater good could accept.
Even when I first met him, more than a decade ago, he was frank. He'd had cancer, wasn't afraid to tell you his age, and was well aware of his own mortality. But, this didn't discourage him or leave him resigned to his fate. Like my own father, also a cancer survivor, this awareness gave Clark a sense of urgency. He cheerfully, but tirelessly, worked to get things done. There wasn't time to waste. Talking with him over wine and cheese, he always had a point to make or a sharp observation that no one else in the room could have added. He was a proud intellectual, but also had a deep sense of solidarity with the working man.
Clark's later years weren't restricted to politics. He tied flies. He knew a great deal about art, despite claiming to be only a humble novice. He appreciated good coffee, good wine and exquisite fresh salads. He routinely embarked on ambitious handyman projects that would have sent me running for a professional contractor. He gardened. He grappled hard with how to do the best thing to help his children when they hit rough spots in life. He was one of those people who could read a few instructions and readily grasp just how some new endeavor needed to be carried out. He was fearless when it came to taking on new challenges and learning new tricks. He considered himself a fortunate man to have the kind of life that he did. He reveled in his good fortune, lest it go to waste.
After enough forceful suggestions from his body that his days were up, he faced death gracefully, as only someone who has had a well examined life can. We will miss him. We will value the contributions that he made to our lives, and we will recall him as an example of a life well lived.