Beloved West Philly community member, Joe Clarke, 64, dies after long battle with cancer

October 15, 2018

Joe Clark volunteered for many years at the Walnut Street West Library Chess Club.

A well-known member of the community, Joe Clarke, 64, passed away on October 6th after a long courageous battle with cancer. Although he was struggling with cancer for years he was still out and about in the community until just a few weeks ago.

Joe was remarkable in his lifework of being a friend and mentor to many. He was on a spiritual journey that embodied religious and philosophical ideas always being spun through human relations and a great love of music and the arts. He was sometimes affectionately called “The Mayor of West Philadelphia.” This nickname came about because of how well known he was. A common complaint by his friends was that if you were sitting with him for a cup of coffee there would be constant interruptions as he seemed to know about every third person walking down the block. 

Joe was born on October 17th, 1953, the ninth of 11 children born to Mary Smith Clarke and Joseph Vincent Clarke. He grew up in the Wissonoming neighborhood of Philadelphia. His family was Irish-Catholic and he attended St. Bartholomew’s grade school and Northeast Catholic High School. In tenth grade Joe left Northeast Catholic because they wouldn’t tolerate his long hair. He graduated from Frankford High School in 1971.

Faith was very important to Joe and he was deeply committed to prayer and study. During Joe’s time living in West Philadelphia (over 30 years), he had many associations with the St. Francis de Sales parish and attended church there. He was a member of the Centering Prayer group and a Taize music group that are affiliated with the church. He was also a member of a contemplative prayer group for several years that met weekly and was very important to him. Joe worked as a Social Worker for Catholic Social Services in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. During his time there, a point of pride was his leadership in opening a center in Southwest Philadelphia where the need for social services was great. He collaborated with other like-minded individuals to create a community resource guide to serve the local region.

His other interests included his work at the Walnut Street West Branch of the Philadelphia Free Library. He volunteered for many years as a mentor at the after-school Chess Club (2006 until a year or two ago). Joe was also energized for the arts and especially enjoyed the film programming at International House Philadelphia and at the Ritz cinemas. He had a great appreciation for jazz and the history of jazz in Philadelphia, in addition to his other eclectic musical tastes.

Joe had several careers as a computer programmer, social worker, tutor and Chaplain. He described his purpose in life as “along with other like-minded friends, I have a vocation as a Pilgrim of Trust, seeking God’s call to extend friendship in the least likely places.”

As Joe’s health began to falter, members of his family and friends would call or come to visit. He was truly surrounded by love and uplifted in his time of departure. Anyone who was not able to say goodbye, please do not despair, he was not alone and he knew how much he was loved.

Joe is survived by three of his siblings Debbie, Patricia and Gary and their spouses, many nieces and nephews, his grandchildren Christopher and Elizabeth. He will be remembered by many friends and community members. A Mass of Christian burial was held at St. Francis de Sales on Friday, Oct. 12.

– Submitted by Kathleen Nishida

3 Comments For This Post

  1. Denise Campbell Says:

    When I was a volunteer at the Walnut Street Library Chess Club, Joe and I shared many snatches of conversations about french film, music and other sundry topics. I will remember him as a beautiful soul. I’m sure he is at peace in a place where the nice people go.

  2. Tony West Says:

    Ah, what a loss!

  3. Hetty Wong Says:

    I get to know him through Walnut Street Library Chess Club, truly a beautiful soul!

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