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May 28, 2015

CRC celebrates Renny Clark’s contributions

clarkThe University Senate community relations committee and Oakland area community partner organizations celebrated the contributions of G. Reynolds (Renny) Clark as part of CRC’s May 19 meeting.

Clark, a chancellor’s liaison to CRC, has been active in promoting community initiatives and strengthening ties between the University and its neighbors. He will retire from the University June 30.

CRC co-chair Tracy Soska told Clark: “You’ve really been a support for all things community-related, from human services to community development. You’re going to be missed around here.

“We’ll miss those days we’ve had to spend with you and we want to say thanks a lot and we really appreciate all you’ve done for the University and particularly for our committee and the community work in building engagement here in the University and the campus.”

Clark said: “I’ve been truly blessed to be here at Pitt for the last 15 years. I consider it an honor and a privilege.” He came to the University after a 33-year career at Westinghouse.

Currently vice chancellor and special assistant to the chancellor, Clark has worn numerous hats at Pitt, including vice chancellor for Community and Governmental Relations, vice chancellor for community initiatives, vice chancellor for external relations and chief of staff.

“When Chancellor (Mark) Nordenberg asked me to come and put together a community and government relations office, I said ‘Okay, I’ll do it for two years.’

“I did not imagine that I would stay for 15 years. I felt that I wanted to stay as long as I was making a difference.”

Clark said he had planned to retire three and a half years ago. “I gave the chancellor my letter announcing it and he stuck it in his pocket and we didn’t talk about it for a year and a half afterwards,” he quipped. When Chancellor Patrick Gallagher arrived last August, Clark told him he planned to remain at Pitt for a year.

Clark’s decision was finalized in January as he and his wife Linda drove home from Savannah, where her sister Pat was in hospice care.

“It was a mind-opening experience for me that I am not going to live forever,” Clark said of their weeklong visit during his sister-in-law’s last days.

During the 11-hour trip home, Linda broke down at the thought of all the places Pat and her husband John had wanted to go together, and of John’s compassionate promise to take some of Pat’s ashes to those places.

Linda told him: “Reynolds, I don’t want one of us scattering the other’s ashes in all the places we wanted to go.”

That Monday, Jan. 12, Clark said he informed Gallagher that he would retire June 30.

Clark’s connections to community service date back to childhood.

He recounted how his father decided to run for a seat on the school board in Homer City when the question of building a new high school arose. As a boy, he watched his father balance board duties with shift work in the coal mines.

“He set the model,” Clark said. “Dad always said ‘Leave it better than you found it. No matter what you do, leave it better than you found it. Don’t do it for the publicity or for your own self-aggrandizement.’”

Clark said he smiles when he drives past Schenley Plaza or the Boulevard of the Allies portal bridge  — two tangible examples of projects he had a hand in that have improved Oakland.

“To hear how many times Schenley Plaza has become an integral part of the vibrancy of Oakland is very, very satisfying,” he told the committee.

He also leaves the Office of Community and Governmental Relations (CGR) better than he’d found it — “That’s an easy statement because it really wasn’t existing as an organization,” he said. “Through  (Assistant Vice Chancellor for community relations) John Wilds’ help over the years we’ve built an outstanding department, which I think functions better than when I ran it, under Paul Supowitz’s leadership,” crediting as well community relations director Kannu Sahni and other CGR staff.

Wilds acknowledged that the University’s governmental relations office was in flux when Clark arrived to establish Community and Governmental Relations. Acknowledging the many community organizations represented at the meeting,  Wilds said: “Here we are today with all of you around the table, making contributions to what we hope to be a greater Oakland. And Renny has to be given the credit of making a large part of that happen.”

Supowitz, vice chancellor for Community and Governmental Relations, concurred that Clark contributed in his prior role as head of CGR and subsequently as part of the chancellor’s office staff.

He told Clark: “It’s really because of what you put into place that you’re leaving it a better place and we thank you for that.”

Clark said he probably could find excuses to stay “until” one more project or another was completed. “In the end, I think I can look back and say it’s better than I found it and I did the best I could,” he said.

“The bad news for all of you is that Linda and I are looking for a condo in Oakland, so I’m going to come to these meetings as an Oakland resident,” he quipped.

—Kimberly K. Barlow