BRATTLEBORO -- As a child, Jeff Clarke sometimes accompanied his father as the well-known Brattleboro physician made house calls.
What he remembers is the careful, thoughtful manner in which Dr. Keith Clarke arrived at a home -- the way he could offer both "counsel and comfort" in the same breath, and with a personal touch tailored to each patient.
"What always impressed me about him was his ability to meet people where they were," Jeff Clarke recalled in the wake of his father's Aug. 5 death at age 82.
"There's a trust there," he added. "It's a very humbling experience to be invited into somebody's home."
Clarke died of complications from Parkinson's disease, an affliction he had endured for the past five years. But family and friends, while acknowledging those recent struggles, took time to recall a life spent in service to the community.
Clarke's time in Brattleboro produced a long resume and many titles including Rotarian, Town Meeting Representative and board member.
But it was as a medical doctor that Clarke made his biggest impact. And that remains widely evident despite the fact that Clarke retired 14 years ago.
"His patients thought the world of him," said Dr. Bob Tortolani, a longtime colleague. "They still talk about him, even now."
Clarke was not a Brattleboro native. He grew up in Richford, in a house that was "a two-minute walk to the Canadian border," his son said.
He earned a
From 1957-59, Clarke served as a captain in the U.S. Army Medical Corps.
When it came time to return to Vermont and open a family practice, Clarke had choices. His son notes that, "at that time, Vermont towns were actively recruiting physicians."
It was the lobbying of the Brattleboro community -- most notably, the efforts of Dr. John Lord and his wife, Helen -- that convinced the Clarkes to settle here. At the time, Dr. Clarke said he was impressed by the "friendliness, spirit and progressiveness" of the town.
He would become a community institution who embodied those same qualities. Colleagues recall a somewhat shy man who nonetheless connected in a deeply personal way with those he treated.
"I think he really interacted with his patients in a very calm, caring way," Tortolani said. "People really appreciated that. They could feel comfortable with him."
Townshend-based Dr. Robert Backus described Clarke as honest, hard-working and punctual.
"He was sort of a model family physician," Backus said. "He was always there for his patients, every time."
Clarke also was there for younger doctors: Tortolani said Clarke's influence was a primary reason he came to Brattleboro in 1973, and Backus remembers receiving a key endorsement.
"One of the reasons I got into medical school was that he recommended me," Backus said.
Backus offered his own recommendation of Clarke in 1986, when Clarke received the first "Vermont Family Physician of the Year" award.
"What I see in Keith is the nobility of purpose of the unselfish individual who never clamors for attention, but who conscientiously, carefully and conservatively provides true family care for his patients," Backus wrote at the time.
Clarke's son put it this way: "My father's life was really defined by service."
That included community service. When Clarke wasn't administering medical care, he was serving on boards -- including Brattleboro Parks and Recreation, Southern Vermont Home Health Agency, Austine School and Francis Hicks School.
Clarke also was a member of Brattleboro Rotary Club for more than 50 years. Even after falling ill, he did not resign.
"He was a kind and quiet fellow and very, very professional," said Bill Bedard, a Brattleboro resident who joined the rotary in 1964, four years after Clarke.
"He was very community-minded," Bedard said. "He made a pledge to himself that he was going to do something for the community. He didn't do it for fame or fortune."
Amid many obligations to his medical practice and community boards, Clarke also found time to be a devoted husband and father. He and his children spent many hours walking the family's property in Brattleboro and, as an avid outdoorsman, he "loved Vermont as a place," his son said.
"He was a fabulous father," Jeff Clarke said. "It was as if he manufactured time that didn't exist."
Mike Faher can be reached at email@example.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.