Principal Joe Clark, who inspired film ‘Lean on me,’ dies
Free Press wire reports | 12/31/2020, 6 p.m.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. - Joe Louis Clark, the baseball bat and bullhorn-wielding principal whose unwavering commitment to his students and uncompromising disciplinary methods inspired the 1989 film “Lean on Me,” died at his Florida home on Tuesday, Dec. 29, 2020, after a long battle with an unspecified illness, his family said. He was 82.
At crime- and drug-ridden Eastside High School in Paterson, N.J., Mr. Clark expelled 300 students in a single day for fighting, vandalism, abusing teachers and drug possession. That lifted the expectations of those who remained, continually challenging them to perform better.
Mr. Clark’s unorthodox methods, which included roaming the hallways with a bullhorn and a baseball bat, won him both admirers and critics nationwide. President Ronald Reagan offered Mr. Clark a White House policy adviser position after his success at the high school.
Actor Morgan Freeman starred as Mr. Clark in the film “Lean on Me” that was loosely based on Mr. Clark’s tenure at Eastside.
After he retired from Eastside in 1989, Mr. Clark worked for six years as the director of Essex County Detention House, a juvenile detention center in Newark, N.J. He also wrote “Laying Down the Law: Joe Clark’s Strategy for Saving Our Schools,” detailing his methods for turning around Eastside High.
Mr. Clark’s teaching career started at a Paterson grade school in Passaic County, N.J., before he became principal of PS 6 Grammar School.
Mr. Clark was born in Rochelle, Ga., on May 8, 1938. His family moved north to Newark, N.J., when he was 6. After graduating from Newark Central High School, Mr. Clark received his bachelor’s degree from William Paterson College, now William Paterson University, a master’s degree from Seton Hall University and an honorary doctorate from the U.S. Sports Academy. Mr. Clark also served as a U.S. Army Reserve sergeant and a drill instructor.
Mr. Clark is survived by his children, Joetta, Hazel and JJ, and three grandchildren. His wife, Gloria Clark, preceded him in death.