William Clark, adviser to Ronald Reagan, was 'loyal to the core'

William P. Clark was such a force in former President Ronald Reagan's administration that Time magazine once labeled him the second most powerful man in the White House.

"He was without question one of the most respected people in the Reagan administration," said Edwin Meese, who served as counselor to the president under Reagan and later as attorney general.

Clark, who served as Reagan's national security adviser and later as secretary of the Interior Department, died Saturday morning at his home in Shandon, Calif., at age 81. He had Parkinson's disease.

Clark's long association with Reagan began when he managed the future president's 1966 gubernatorial campaign in Ventura County, Calif. Colleagues remember him as a loyal and trusted behind-the-scenes adviser who helped shape national and foreign policy, including the White House strategy for winning the Cold War.

Former first lady Nancy Reagan said she was deeply saddened to learn of Clark's death, describing him as "a friend for almost 50 years."

"Above all, Bill was loyal to the core, and American patriots like this are few and far between these days," she said in a statement. 

Reagan also recalled that her husband and Clark shared a love of horses and the outdoors, so much so that Ronald Reagan appointed him secretary of the Interior Department in 1983.

"My love and prayers go out to the entire Clark family," said Nancy Reagan.

After working for Ronald Reagan in Sacramento, Calif., and receiving appointments to several California courts, Clark followed the newly elected president to Washington and served as deputy secretary of state and national security adviser before Reagan named him Interior secretary. 

As national security adviser, "he was the person that briefed Ronald Reagan every morning on all kinds of foreign affairs and national security matters," Meese said in an interview. "He was the last person to sign off on any documents relating to national security. He was extremely competent and also a very trusted member of the president's staff."

Clark was "the honest broker" whenever differences of opinion broke out among Reagan's national security team, Meese said.

"He would make sure all of the views were carefully presented to the president, so everybody had confidence that their voices would be heard both in the actual meeting, obviously, but also when memos were sent up, they would be sent through Bill, and they had confidence the president would actually see them," Meese said.

Clark also was responsible for briefing Reagan before meetings with foreign leaders such as British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, French President Francois Mitterrand and even Pope John Paul II. In some cases, Clark accompanied Reagan to those meetings, Meese said. 

When the White House began to put together its strategy for dealing with the Soviet Union and winning the Cold War, "Ronald Reagan had a lot of ideas coming in," Meese said. "Bill is the one who took Ronald Reagan's concepts and fleshed them out."

Despite his influence, Clark preferred to work behind the scenes.

"Bill felt he could be most helpful to the president, particularly as national security adviser, to stay in the background," Meese said. "Obviously, the cabinet members were more likely to make news, and he didn't try to upstage any of them."

Even after he left the administration, Clark never wrote a tell-all memoir of his years at Reagan's side.

When he was Interior secretary, Clark and the president remained close and would sometimes go horseback riding together. Even in Washington, they would saddle up and go riding through Rock Creek Park and some of the other parks in the city, Meese said.

Meese remembers Clark as "a very devout man."

"He did not in any way try to use his religious beliefs for political or personal reasons," Meese said. "But it was the fact that he had this very strong faith that I think enabled him to be so successful."

(Contact reporter Michael Collins at collinsm@shns.com. Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service, www.shns.com.)

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