Tributes to
J. Desmond Clark


Desmond Clark: some personal thoughts

I should first have met Desmond in 1967, when he was appointed as the external examiner for my doctoral thesis at Cambridge, in the expectation of his being in England at the right time to take part in the necessary oral examination, but in the event his trip was cancelled and he never came. The University, even in those days, was clearly not going to spend money flying him over from Berkeley specially, so it found some regulation under which I could be awarded the degree without the oral exam, and the chance to meet him was lost. Not for long, however: Desmond almost immediately invited me to apply some of the methods I had devised for metrical analysis of handaxes to his superb excavated Acheulean assemblages from Kalambo Falls, and I met him to discuss this work during the course of a visit to Berkeley shortly afterwards in 1969; before long I was on my way to Livingstone, Zambia. We were to meet again many times, though at rather widely spaced intervals, over the
next 33 years. The report that I completed and sent to Desmond in 1972 was eventually published, in Kalambo Falls volume 3, much later (for various reasons) than Desmond had intended and indeed almost 30 years after it was written, but that worked out well, because I got to write another chapter for the volume and to play quite a large part in the final stages of its production and proof-reading, because of Desmond's sadly diminished eyesight in his closing years. Thus I could study in minute detail the quite extraordinary level of scholarship which Desmond brought to bear on this work, as on all his writings: I count it a great privilege to have helped to see the final Kalambo volume through to publication, and a particular joy to know that he and Betty (whose wonderful drawings are such a feature of the book) saw it and were delighted with it, after all the difficulties and delays there had been along the way.

Desmond's death, only a few short months afterwards, seemed very sudden indeed: I would confidently have expected him to survive many more years, and indeed to continue his travels as he always did, defying frailty. He had been in England on a very short visit immediately before, and had kindly telephoned me, amongst other friends, with greetings, as was his custom. I happened to be out when he called, and he left a recorded message. I called back the next day, but he was resting and actually asleep at the time, and was due to fly home the next day. I said that there was absolutely no need to disturb him: I left a message of greeting and said I would send an e-mail, but as it turned out, he died before I could do so. In October this year (2002), I attended the Memorial Service held for Desmond in Cambridge, at his beloved Christ's College: it was a wonderful occasion, a joyous celebration of Desmond and Betty, tinged with deep sadness of course, but one could
only feel that Desmond would have enjoyed it enormously and thoroughly approved of it. Many old friends were there, and Cambridge was looking its very best in the brilliant autumn sunshine - I'm sure Desmond would have said "autumn" rather than "Fall". October is usually a particularly beautiful month in Cambridge, and it is also a very special time: the calendar year may be drawing towards its close, but the academic year is newly begun, and yet another generation of students is having its first experience of life and learning in this extraordinary place - no bad time for a memorial service in a College chapel, especially when it is for a long life, lived to the full at every stage, and a record of achievement that few can hope to emulate.

I have read with real pleasure the other tributes that have been gathered together here, and there is little left to say. Like so many others, I shall always remember Desmond's extraordinary knowledge and scholarship, and the way he retained full control over them right to the end. There seemed to be no question that one could ask, on which he could not immediately contribute either priceless first-hand information or a useful opinion, and these gifts were given willingly and in the most unpretentious manner. I shall also remember the warmth of his personality, including his delightful sense of humour, in triumph or adversity. The final "in the press" production stage of Kalambo Falls 3 was far from straightforward, and full of those pitfalls, difficulties and challenging disasters which so often seem to characterize the working relationships between authors on the one hand and publishers on the other. Desmond and I were in close touch, as things ground slowly forward, and if we had not shared a deeply humorous academic delight in the ridiculous, as well as a certain degree of determination and resourcefulness in overcoming it, the great work might never have appeared. One can see that those on the publishing side might sometimes have viewed the negotiations rather differently.
Lastly, I feel entitled to rejoice in another of Desmond's characteristics to which other contributors have referred: his quietly unassailable Britishness. During all the time he spent at Berkeley, I could never detect any change to his very English accent, and Desmond's usual ending to one of his phone calls was "Jolly good show - God bless, old boy," which can hardly be seen as an American turn of phrase. I have much enjoyed looking at the superb photographs of Desmond and Betty which form part of this compilation, and it seemed to me that in one of them, taken at Berkeley in 1984 and showing Desmond in academic dress, he contrives to look, in the nicest possible way, like a personification of the British flag. I think I could have convinced him of that, though he might well have thought of it already and, if so, perhaps it brings together the things I have singled out here: the scholarship, the warmth and sense of humour and the Britishness. But how could any!
one writing an appreciation of Desmond select just those few characteristics? There was so much more, but I think it is well enough covered by what others have written. In his chosen field, he was and will remain, quite simply, a towering figure. May he rest in peace - though, until now, rest and Desmond were not things one normally associated.

-Derek Roe, Oxford University, England