Tributes to
J. Desmond Clark


The news of J. Desmond Clark's death on February 14, 2002 was relayed to me by Professor Elizabeth Colson on February 15, through her Zambian colleague, and I immediately facilitated its dissemination on our local radio station and publication in the local press. The country was deeply saddened at the passing away of the first director of the Rhodes - Livingstone Museum and international scholar.
Because of Desmond's strong connections with the Rhodes - Livingstone Museum from 1938 to 1961, his fieldwork in Zambia and numerous publications, on Zambian prehistory, the name of Desmond Clark has become a household name in Zambia. This became very evident in 1989 when he and Betty visited Zambia with colleagues from Indiana University, Drs. Toth and Schick at the invitation of the Livingstone Museum. Large crowds of people turned up to have a glimpse of their idol. In recognition of his contributions to the development of museums and the understanding of human development in the country, the Zambian president received him at State House and had breakfast with him, Betty, Toth and Schick. The country was simply saying, thank you, for the tremendous contribution and achievements he had made in the field of archaeology.

Many of my African colleagues who knew and worked with Desmond would join me in remembering him as someone who more than anything else, loved working with Africans. He helped a large number of us currently working in Africa to obtain foreign education in the field of Archaeology in American and European Universities. For those of us who knew and loved JDC, he will live in our hearts and memory forever.

Between 1938 and the time of his death, Desmond devoted his life to the study of prehistoric societies in Africa, the training of indigenous Africans as well as the development of African Museums. Desmond was always at the heart of everything we did as African Museum and heritage professionals especially in Zambia, the country that saw him start his professional career at a tender age of twenty-two years.

We in Zambia, shall never forget the power of his memory which was a treasure even a few days before his death. He always remembered very vividly names of Zambians that made up part of the staff at the Rhodes - Livingstone Museum and always showed concern about their well-being. He was especially fond of his Field Archaeology Assistant and wrote a couple of weeks before his death to enquire how his former Archaeology Assistant was doing. His vivid memory of street names in Livingstone and a host of other historic events about the then Northern Rhodesia mesmerized Livingstone residents during a public lecture he gave at the Livingstone Museum in 1989. Sadly, this will remain his last visit to the Museum he helped establish and develop into a world-renowned museum of international repute.

I will always remember Desmond and his caring wife, Betty for their invariable generosity to us Africans and how they have helped us interpret the complexities of western societies in which they helped to train us. I always enjoyed his sense of humour especially when it related to his experiences on the African continent, his caring ways and loving kindness. He never lost his distinctive British character which was a great source of inspiration among us from Africa. His use of terms such as "Jolly good" and "chap" always made Desmond stand out in the American society where he spent over forty years.

I will always remember how Desmond and Betty spent a freezing night at the San Francisco International Airport in April 1979, waiting to pick me up after a more than fifteen hour flight from Africa and ensured that I had a comfortable sleep at the International Hall of Residence, Berkeley. This was my first trip to the USA to study African Prehistory under his direction. Since then, Desmond remained my mentor. He and Betty always made me very welcome. They extended this hospitality to my family and we were always part of the small community that had beach picnics along the California Pacific coast. My children always remember with fondness those rare times when we were privileged to be with them both in Zambia and Berkeley.

Desmond was incredibly kind and generous. He shared his knowledge with us from Africa including published papers and books. My personal library has a sizeable share of reprints, articles and books through his kind donation. The latest donation being Kalambo Falls Volume III published by Cambridge University press last year in October. I received a brand new copy from him on February 12, 2002 and wrote to thank him and wished him a healthier life the following day. Unfortunately, he entered eternal rest a day later and will never be able to receive my letter.

On behalf of Zambia, a country in which Desmond started his professional career in 1938, a country in which Desmond and Betty started their family life, the people of Zambia and indeed on my own behalf and that of my family, I wish to express our loving condolences to Betty, John and Elizabeth and all the grandchildren. I mourn his passing away but his memory will always remain with us.


- Dr. Francis Musonda, Executive Secretary, National Museums Board of Zambia