By BOB LEWIS
On Nov 15, Tulsa lost one of its best known and most beloved citizens.
I am sure reams of newspaper copy and hours of radio and TV time will highlight Roy Clark’s musical skills, his introduction of country music to the Soviet Union and the vast number of awards and halls of fame inductions he received. But the man I had the pleasure of knowing and working with was much more than all of these professional laurels put together.
I will never forget the time in 1975 when I served as vice president of a local public relations agency that came up with what some people called the hair-brained idea of having Clark host a charity golf tournament to benefit our client, Children’s Medical Center. In our minds, this event made perfect sense since Roy and his wife, Barbara, had just become Tulsa residents and we reasoned this would be a great way for him to cement his new hometown roots.
As it turned out the event had an even deeper meaning to him.
At a news conference before the launch of the Roy Clark Celebrity Golf Classic he told of his struggling pre-fame life and of having a child who needed specialized medical care that he simply could not afford. So, he did what he had to do and turned to a charity facility for help.
With his eyes moist, he told reporters he got on his knees and told God if he ever had a chance to repay the gift he had been given, he would do so. This tournament allowed him to make good on that promise.
Joining him for the inaugural event at Cedar Ridge Country Club were a raft of notables, including showbusiness legends Bob Hope and Jerry Lewis along with George “Goober” Lindsey, Minnie Pearl and Jimmy Dean. Chill Wills had a friend bring in an authentic Western stagecoach and then traveled Tulsa city streets in it to help promote the event.
To call Roy Clark’s career legendary would be an understatement. Known as “superpicker” because of his musicianship, he was a Grammy, and award-winning artist who is in the Grand Ole Opry and Country Music Hall of Fame. He co-hosted “Hee Haw, “ a country music variety show, for 24 years and helped it become the longest-running syndicated show in television history. He was the pioneer who turned Branson, Missouri, into the live music capitol of the world (the Ozark town today boasts more seats than Broadway).
Not so well known, perhaps, was the impact he made on his adopted hometown that ranged from helping save professional baseball (a sport he loved all his life) to his support of education that is reflected in Union Public Schools naming an elementary school in his honor.
Over the years, I had the privilege of working with a number of celebrities. I cherish those memories, but can honestly say none of these people had the warmth and genuine sincerity of Roy Clark. He was a blessing to all of us who knew and worked with him and to the community he was so proud to call home.
He will be greatly missed.