Correction to This Article
The Aug. 22 obituary of former Maryland state senator James Clark Jr. was accompanied by a photo of former Howard County Council member Jim Clark. A photo of James Clark Jr. appears here.

Longtime Md. Senator, Farmer James Clark Jr., 87

James Clark Jr. helped create Maryland's Program Open Space, which acquires land.
James Clark Jr. helped create Maryland's Program Open Space, which acquires land. (The Washington Post)
By Joe Holley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 22, 2006

James Clark Jr., 87, a Howard County farmer who as a Maryland state senator for 24 years championed the preservation of open space, died of prostate cancer Aug. 18 at his Ellicott City farm.

Mr. Clark, who served as Senate president from 1979 to 1982, became involved with preserving Maryland's undeveloped land in the 1960s, when he realized that the Rouse Co. was proposing to build a city -- Columbia -- on rural farmland. He was aware that local zoning controls would crumble with the onslaught of development and that the state's rural and undeveloped landscape soon would be merely a memory.

Teaming with state Treasurer William S. James, he developed Program Open Space, which acquired land to ensure that it would be kept undeveloped in perpetuity. The program's funding source was half a percentage point of the state's real estate transfer tax. Mr. Clark liked to call the approach "an acre for development and an acre for open space."

Despite continuing development pressures and recent cuts in its funding, the program has allowed Maryland to preserve almost 20 percent of its landscape as permanent open space.

"He loved the land and considered himself a steward -- not an owner -- of it," said his daughter, Martha Anne Clark.

In addition to Program Open Space, Mr. Clark helped found the Howard County Conservancy, the Howard County Antique Farm Machinery Club and the Howard County Fair.

"I guess I'm a born environmentalist," he told the Baltimore Sun in July. "I did a lot of that in the legislature and outside of the legislature."

Mr. Clark was born Dec. 19, 1918, on an Ellicott City family farm named Keewydin. According to a memoir he published in 1999, his mother was a direct descendant of the Ellicotts who settled the mill town that became Ellicott City. He attended Ellicott City High School and graduated from Fort Union Military Academy, near Charlottesville, in 1937. He received a bachelor's degree in animal husbandry in 1941 from what is now Iowa State University.

He served in the Army Air Forces as a glider pilot during World War II, flying troops and equipment across German lines. After the war, he returned to farming and in 1951 established a dairy and beef operation at Clarkland Farms on Route 108.

Elected to the Maryland House of Delegates in 1958 and to the state Senate in 1962, he championed a wide range of issues. In addition to protecting the environment, he believed in civil rights. "His parents always raised the children to be colorblind, and it just never occurred to him to be anything else," his daughter said. His forebears were Quakers, she noted.

He also believed in fiscal responsibility and, as an advocate for a national balanced-budget amendment, traveled the nation lobbying state legislatures for its passage.

In 1982, he became involved in a reapportionment fight that put him at odds with Maryland Gov. Harry Hughes and most of his fellow Democrats in the Senate. Doing what presiding officers rarely do, he gave up the rostrum and led a floor fight against the governor's reapportionment map. Mr. Clark was outraged that the map split Columbia, which he represented, into two districts and shifted more power to Prince George's County senators. His fellow senators turned against him on a vote of 29 to 8.

Some observers predicted that the fight would mortally wound his political career. Others pointed to his wartime record, to his steady political rise and to the hardball politics he played in 1979 to get to the presidency.

"Jim Clark finds a way to survive," one legislator told The Washington Post. "People are deceived by his looks and his drawl. Underneath all that, he's a tough fighter."

He did, in fact, lose the Senate presidency, and he retired from the legislature three years later. Returning to his 587-acre farm, he remained involved in the local community. He was a member of the Maryland Environmental Trust, the Land Trust Alliance, the Mosquito Control Board, the Thistle Control Board and numerous other farming and environmental organizations.

He also continued to run a produce stand on Route 108 that is known for its corn, tomatoes, okra, cantaloupe and string beans, as well as a nearby petting zoo his daughter oversees.

"I've been able to do what I like all my life," he told the Sun last month. "A lot of people can't do that. They have to work for someone else. I like the government, and I like farming. They are my two loves."

His wife, Margaret Lillian Clark, died in 2001.

In addition to his daughter, of Ellicott City, survivors include two sons, Mark Tyson Clark of Quincy, Fla., and James Hawkins Clark of Ellicott City; a brother, Joseph Hopkins Clark of Ellicott City; and six grandchildren.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company