Carrying on Sen. Clark's legacy

Close to the southeastern fringe of 540 acres of rolling farmland, Martha Anne Clark lives in the Ellicott City farmhouse where she grew up, the same house where her father, state Sen. James Clark Jr., resided for nearly 50 years until his death in 2006.

In another house on the property lives her 24-year-old daughter, Nora Crist, who has introduced pigs and chickens to the working farm on Clarksville Pike for the first time in its 214-year history.

And just over a grassy knoll or two in the other direction is the petting farm Clark opened 10 years ago with her father's enthusiastic support.

Mother and daughter have recently joined forces to fulfill the late Democratic legislator's fondest wish, which was for his beloved farm to stay in the family. That hope that is underscored in a new chapter added to his 1999 memoir, which will be available beginning March 31 at a book signing at the farm.

"I get up every morning just ecstatic that Nora is farming this land," said Clark, 57, who decided to augment "Jim Clark: Soldier, Farmer, Legislator" two winters ago. "Nora is the next generation of farming, and she's passionate about it."

Clark, who only began listing farming as her occupation in 2002 when she opened Clark's Elioak Farm as a petting farm, said she'd been thinking for some time about ordering more copies of her dad's life story because so few remained from the original printing of 1,000. Then she hit on the idea of supplementing the work by picking up where her father left off.

Only four pages were added to the original 187-page book that covers Jim Clark's early life, stints in the Army and state legislature, and his eventual return to full-time farming. Still, Martha Clark had her work cut out for her in preparing it for publication — again.

"Dad wrote out his memoir in longhand on yellow notepads, and I typed the whole thing on a word processor," she recalled, shaking her head as she recalled the drudgery of that initial process.

This time around, changes were made and typographical errors corrected on 45 pages, which then were retyped and set in a typeface to closely match the original pages. Three dozen photographs had to be converted to pixels. Then the whole package was reprinted and bound in the same green buckram cover that adorns the first edition, and will be sold for $20 at the farm store.

"This is [my father's legacy], this is what he cares about," Clark said. "Nora and I have a goal to keep the farm all together and not let it get divided up."

Born in 1918 just four miles away from what is now called Clark's Never Sell the Land Farm, the longtime legislator "traveled such a short distance from birth to death, [yet] had a wide-ranging influence on his county, his state and his nation," Clark writes in the new final chapter.

The farm's name was taken from the words engraved on a memorial stone the senator placed near the farmhouse in honor of his wife, Lillian, who died two days after the couple's 55th wedding anniversary in 2001.

"Dad's interest in his farm never waned, and he was actively involved in the farming operation until his final illness," Clark writes on page 169.

Clark, who said she never expected to become a farmer, graduated from Duke University in 1976 with a degree in public policy. Her older brother, Mark Clark, was "a very good farmer," she said, who moved their dairy operation to Georgia in 1993 and retired after 15 years there. Their younger brother, Jamie Clark, works with computers.

After Clark's husband, Doug Crist, died in 2000, she found herself drawn to the farm and began working daily alongside her father that same year. During the last summer before her father's death in August 2006, Clark was joined by her children, Nora and Nathan Crist, in raising the cattle and operating the vegetable stand on Clarksville Pike.

Soon after that, her daughter switched her major from equine studies to agriculture and graduated from the University orf Delaware in 2009. Nathan, 22, will graduate in May with a bachelor's degree in modern languages.

"It was a wonderful summer, and it was then that it was instilled in Nora what the farm and the land meant to my dad," Clark said.

Knowing that his granddaughter is carrying on the family farming tradition "would mean everything to Jim," said Julian "Jack" Lapides, a former state senator from Baltimore whose tribute to his longtime friend and colleague appears in the second edition.

Lapides, 80, described James Clark Jr. in a phone interview as "a real leader and genuine statesman at a time when the hatefulness of today was just not present in politics."

Local journalist Len Lazarick offered his memories of the late senator in an Aug. 29, 2006, column from the now-defunct Baltimore Examiner that is reprinted in the new book.

He wrote that the politician and ardent believer in civil rights, whom he'd covered for newspapers for three decades, had asked Columbia's developer James Rouse two questions when the planned city was still an emerging concept: "First, is this city going to be open to everyone, and second, can you do this without driving our taxes through the roof?"

Using such adjectives as "warm, civil and genteel," Lapides said that Jim Clark was "strong enough not to sell to James Rouse, and that decision also proved he was brilliant because it was the right thing to do."

He also described Jim Clark as "a true liberal, which has suddenly been made into a dirty word by some people, even though it's still a positive term in a democracy where others demean and disparage everyone."

"Jim cared deeply about agriculture, and had this tremendous advantage of being able to talk in farmers' language with conservatives in Howard County, yet he was a Renaissance man who could converse just as easily with liberals," Lazarick said. "He was unique and magnificent in that way."

Martha Clark said Never Sell the Land Farm "has been expanding at a fairly quick rate," and so she and Nora aren't setting too many long-term goals just yet. And who knows? Her son could decide to join them, or she might have grandchildren someday who want to get involved.

"We don't want the farm to ever stop being farmed, that's all," she said. "That's what my dad wanted, and that's our shared hope."

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