Clarke, a 67-year-old South Boston resident who died Wednesday in a Lynchburg hospital, had served on South Boston Town
Council since November 2014 when he was appointed to fill the seat left vacant by the resignation of Margaret Fountain Coleman.
“Billy was a calming influence, and he always wanted what was best for the people of South Boston,” said South Boston Mayor Ed Owens. “He didn’t talk just to talk, and if you heard him say something, it was meaningful and positive.
“When Clarke spoke, people listened, because he was very sincere about what he said,” Owens added, pointing to Clarke’s background in education.
“Our community lost a real leader. It wasn’t about his ego, and that’s what made him so effective as a good councilperson and community advocate. That’s who he was, and that’s why he ran.”
“I think I can do some good,” Clarke told him when asked why he was running for council, Owens recalled.
“He was committed to it. He’d always speak when he had something to say, and he was very approachable, rational and logical about things. Our community has lost a great person.”
Clarke was the “epitome of a gentleman,” said South Boston Vice-Mayor Coleman Speece.
“He never did anything rash, and he was always working in the best interests of the citizens he served,” said Speece. “He was just a good guy, and he will be missed.”
South Boston Town Manager Tom Raab agreed with Owens in that when Clarke spoke, people listened.
“He was a dedicated public servant, and he’ll be sorely missed,” said Raab.
“The suddenness of Clarke’s passing makes you realize life is too short not to make the best of every day,” Raab added. “We’re all saddened by his loss. We’re going to miss Billy, and it’s a great loss for the whole community.”
Fellow members of council also were struck by Clarke’s sincerity.
“Billy had this great smile, and when you met him you had to like him,” said Councilman Bill Snead.
“He was a quiet, wonderful man, a true servant of the people and always thinking of ways to improve life in South Boston.
“He was always a true gentleman, and I really enjoyed serving with him. He was a good, down to earth person.”
Councilman Bob Hughes sat next to Clarke during council meetings, and the pair shared more than a few conversations.
A good athlete and avid runner, Clarke was spotted jogging just days before passing away, Hughes said.
Health and diet was just one issue they talked about, but that didn’t stop Clarke from getting him five pounds of country sausage and a 28-pound cured ham a couple of years ago, Hughes recalled with fondness.
“I had so much respect for Billy. He had a quiet assurance about him, and it was quite evident he was not only a good athlete but a sincere and caring person,” said Hughes. “He’ll be missed by council and this community. He took care of himself, and this was quite a shock.”
Councilman Winston Harrell observed that Clarke spent his entire life in service to the community as an educator in public schools, the community college system and Virginia Department of Corrections.
“He spent his life dedicated to service, and that was honorable of him,” said Harrell. “That was his whole life. He was just a wonderful person and will be sorely missed.”
Clarke was a teacher for the Halifax County Public School system from November 1974 to December 1988. He also taught literacy and GED skills to adult students in correctional facilities for the Virginia Department of Corrections from 1988-2013, including Camp 23 in Halifax County. Clarke also served as a member of the adjunct faculty for Southside Virginia Community College teaching adult education in the GED program. Clarke did his undergraduate work at Danville Community College, received his Bachelor of Science degree from Virginia State University and a Masters of Science degree from Longwood University.
News Article by Doug Ford with Gazette-Virginian.