The world might never know the depths of Henry B. Clark Jr.’s generosity but following his death on May 30 — at the age of 101 — some of his anonymous donations are coming to light.
“I kept his secret until now,” said Gerry Keir, the former editor of the Honolulu Advertiser newspaper who protected Clark’s alter ego as the Advertiser’s annual “Secret Santa.”
“I hope he won’t mind being ‘outed’ after all these years,” Keir said.
One day in the late 1980s, Clark called Keir at the News Building on Kapiolani Boulevard with an idea to encourage more donations to the Advertiser’s annual Christmas fund by creating a “Secret Santa” who would also donate.
Keir did not know Clark but certainly knew that Clark had risen through Castle &Cooke to become president, CEO and chairman of Castle &Cooke’s board, as well as chairman of the board of what is now the Honolulu Museum of Art, among several other board memberships.
Clark had only one condition for his donations, which would go on for years: “He said, ‘I’ll only do it if your promise not to tell anybody who it is,’” Keir remembered. “He was real serious: ‘Don’t you tell anybody.’ He didn’t want any credit. He was just trying to make people’s Christmases a little happier.”
Keir estimates that Clark easily donated “tens of thousands of dollars” to the fund over the years as “Secret Santa” — a mystery donor whom Keir credits with stimulating even more money and gifts from readers.
Even Clark’s son, Sefton Clark, was unaware that his father had been the “Secret Santa.”
“He never specifically told me that,” Clark told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser.
But it was in keeping with other donations that Clark made — often anonymously, but sometimes with his name attached. Clark Park on Hawaii island is named after him, along with Clark Auditorium at the Hawaii State Hospital and the Clark Scholarship at the University of Hawaii.
Several organizations had tried to honor Clark with some sort of fund-raising dinner “but Henry would never allow that,” said his longtime friend Don Anderson, former president of the Oahu YMCAs who also tried to rope Clark into a YMCA dinner in his honor. “Henry never wanted his name to be used to raise money.”
With Clark’s death, the YMCA is now organizing a memorial in Clark’s honor on Aug. 20, “and I have to pray that he’ll forgive me,” Anderson said. “He never wanted recognition. He just wanted to do the right thing. He connected with humanity in some incredible ways. His influence for good in this community is probably greater than you can ever find. But Henry was a very humble guy. He didn’t need anyone to feed his ego.”
Anderson estimates that Clark donated $2 million to various YMCA programs over the years, including a college scholarship that helped some of the YMCA’s current generation of leaders; and money to rebuild buildings at the YMCA’s Camp Erdman on the North Shore.
Clark had three rules that he lived by, Anderson said:
“Always be positive. Two: Help other people. And three: Have a sense of humor. Don’t take yourself too seriously.”
Born in Chevy Chase, Md., in 1915, Clark graduated from Harvard Business School in 1940. A year later, he was a naval officer in charge of a mine sweeper stationed at Pearl Harbor during the Japanese attack.
Described as elegant and distinguished, with a shock of white hair and a ready smile, Clark joined Castle &Cooke after the war and gained a reputation as a successful businessman willing to help those in need — while fighting discrimination and racism at places like the Pacific Club, where Clark became membership chairman in the 1960s.
“Word got out that Henry would bring in Asians,” Anderson said. A prominent club member — whom Clark refused to identify — told Clark, “‘I’m going to quit if you do that,’ and Henry said, ‘You might as well quit right now,’” Anderson said.
The Pacific Club welcomed its first Asian-American members in 1965 — a Chinese-American banker and a Japanese-American attorney, Anderson said.
“Henry was brought onto the Gas Co. board and the same thing happened there,” Anderson said. “After the first meeting, the old guys said, ‘You were kind of quiet. Got anything to say?’ And Henry said, ‘You all look like me. We don’t look like our customers and we probably ought to do something about that.’ So they did. He was responsible for bringing Asians onto the corporate board. His impact was huge.”
Clark regularly had breakfast with Anderson and cookie magnate Wally Amos for years at the Pacific Club and more recently, until his death, at the Kahala Nui retirement home where Clark had moved with his second wife, Charlotte, who later died.
“Wally and I tried to organize a dinner honoring ‘Mr. Anonymous,’” Anderson said. “Henry saw through us in a minute. He just didn’t want recognition.”
Clark’s stepson, Barrett Francis, also has no idea of the extent of his stepfather’s generosity.
“He did so much for so many and I don’t even know all of it,” Francis said. “I’ve heard from others that over the decades he often did things anonymously.”
Clark and his first wife, Geraldine, and Clark’s second wife, Charlotte, would buy art specifically to donate to the Honolulu Academy of Arts, now the Honolulu Museum of Art.
“His belief was that art should be shared,” Francis said. “It shouldn’t just be in a few people’s private homes. Their most valuable pieces probably went straight into the museum. He was a naturally fine, warm, humorous, very intelligent human being who really liked people. All of us feel really honored and graced to have known him.”
Besides his son and stepson, Clark is survived by his stepdaughter Maria Parkhill; and numerous grandchildren, stepgrandchildren and a great-granddaughter.