William P. Clark dies at 81; close advisor to President Reagan

William P. Clark dies at 81; close advisor to President Reagan
With President Reagan in this 1984 photo as he signs the papers accepting the Vietnam Veterans Memorial for the U.S. government are: Jan Scruggs, left, preisdent of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund; then-Interior Secretary William P. Clark and his wife, Joan; and Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger. Clark, perhaps Reagan's closest advisor, has died at 81. (Bob Daugherty, Associated Press)

William P. Clark, who rose from a California campaign volunteer to become one of President Reagan's most trusted advisors, died Saturday. He was 81.

Clark died at his ranch home in the central California town of Shandon after a long battle with Parkinson's disease, said his son Paul.

The elder Clark began working for Reagan by managing the actor's 1966 gubernatorial campaign in Ventura County. As Reagan moved from the Golden State to the White House, Clark ascended to various political jobs.

Clark worked for Reagan in Sacramento, rising to the position of executive secretary, before accepting a judgeship with the San Luis Obispo County Superior Court.


Reagan later appointed him to the state appellate court in Los Angeles, and then the state Supreme Court, before he moved to Washington to serve as deputy secretary of state and national security advisor.

Clark was national security advisor when Reagan maneuvered the Soviet Union toward arms control, and he was a key player in Reagan's philosophy of "peace through strength." Their close relationship led Time magazine to name Clark "the second most powerful man in the White House" in a 1983 cover story.

The New York Times once said Clark had more access to Reagan than anyone else.

"They had very similar ideas about what ought to be done," Edwin Meese, who served as counselor to Reagan and then as attorney general, told the San Luis Obispo Tribune in 2009. "And they also knew and understood one another very well, having worked together back in the California days."

For nearly two years, Clark then served as Interior secretary, replacing unpopular department head James Watt, before returning to his private law practice and business consulting firm.

He was born in 1931 in Oxnard into a family of lawmen — his grandfather Robert was Ventura County sheriff and a U.S. marshal; his father, William Sr., was the police chief of Oxnard.

In the mid-1950s, William Clark served in the Army Counter-Intelligence Corps in Europe. He attended both Stanford University and Loyola Law School without earning degrees, but nevertheless passed the bar exam.

"That's been pointed out throughout his career, that he finished neither college nor law school. But be that as it may, he did just fine," his son Paul said.

After retiring from public life, Clark and his wife, Joan, designed and built a chapel in Shandon that they donated to the community. A devout Roman Catholic, he also became a strong abortion opponent.

Clark is survived by five children. His wife died four years ago.

Abdollah writes for the Associated Press.