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People We’ll Miss—2014

Harley Clark, 78

November 8, 1935–October 9, 2014

If you attended the University of Texas—or any of the school’s football games, basketball games, swim meets, graduations, or any other place the Longhorns cheer—it’s hard to imagine a time before revelers thrust their “Hook em, Horns” hand sign in the air while singing the “Eyes of Texas.”

But the signal ubiquitous to celebrating UT victory owes its origin to one man: Harley Clark. As Paul Burka wrote for Texas Monthly in 1997:

[B]y 1955 archrival UT had fallen on hard times, made harder by a corresponding rise in the fortunes of A&M. A UT cheerleader named Harley Clark syllogized: (1) A&M has a hand sign, (2) A&M is winning, (3) UT has no hand sign, therefore (4) UT is losing. .  . . At a pep rally before the TCU game, Clark held up his right hand in a peculiar way. The index and little fingers were sticking up, while the thumb held down the two interior digits–the head of a Longhorn, Clark said. The creation proved not to be the immediate answer to UT’s football plight, however, as signless TCU won the next day, 47-20. 

While this might be Clark’s most famous contribution during his 78 years, it is far from his only one. After earning a law degree in 1962, he was appointed as judge of the 250th Judicial District Court, where his biggest decision on the bench was in Edgewood ISD v. Kirby, when he ruled that the way Texas allocated money to different school districts was unconstitutional.

He resigned from the bench in 1989 and joined the law firm of Vinson & Elkins, which is where he met his wife, Patti. The couple was married on September 8, 1998—an intentional decision, Patti says, because of the way the numbers matchedand their ceremony was held in Booked Up, the Archer City bookstore that’s owned by Larry McMurtry. Patti says the bookstore was decorated with flowers, and McMurtry himself signed the couple’s marriage license as a witness. Returning to Booked Up became an anniversary tradition for the Clarks, who liked to dig through the stacks in hopes of finding a new treasure to add to their collection.

He spent much of his retirement on the forty acres he owned outside Dripping Springs, cultivating an expansive garden, paying special attention to his tomatoes. “He approached it like he did everything else,” Patti said. “He studied and studied until he knew everything he could about tomatoes and really became an expert.”

When he wasn’t tending his land, Clark read his favorite Texas authors, like J. Frank Dobie, Tom Lea, and Walter Prescott Webb.

Harley was 78 when he died in October. He is buried in the Texas State Cemetery, where he is surrounded by some of the writers—and Longhorns—he respected so much. –Hannah Smothers

(AP Photo/Austin American-Statesman, Brian K. Diggs)

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