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Saying goodbye to a longtime lawyer

Martha Clark’s professionalism, expertise and sense of humor will be sorely missed

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

The Rev. Dr. Paul Huh, the Presbyterian Mission Agency’s associate for Korean translation, presents calligraphy he created for Martha Clark, who is retiring Dec. 31 as general counsel for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) (Photo by Tammy Warren)

LOUISVILLE — A few years ago, Martha Clark grew concerned when Sara Lisherness wanted the then-Moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Heath Rada, to join her on a trip to Kirkuk, Iraq, where the Kirkuk church was welcoming Christian refugee families that fled Mosul when ISIS invaded.

“Y’all may be ninjas,” Clark told Lisherness, Compassion, Peace & Justice director, “but the moderator is not. You need to make sure he’s safe.”

“That’s probably the last time I will ever be called a ninja,” Lisherness said with a laugh one day last week during a farewell reception for Clark, who’s been the denomination’s general counsel since 2008 and was associate general counsel from 1996-2008. “She cares about people who are more risk-takers than she is. We will definitely and deeply miss you.”

“I’ve always admired your courage,” Clark replied to Lisherness, telling those honoring her that Lisherness travels “to places you would have to pay me really big bucks to visit … When I grow up, I want to be Sara.”

Clark, who was an attorney with Humana Inc. for 11 years before coming to the PC(USA), will retire effective Dec. 31. She said she plans to take some time off before finding a cause for which she can volunteer.

Her friends and colleagues said they have appreciated not only her professionalism and expertise, but her sense of humor as well.

“I’ve learned about all the gifts and skills, all the expertise you have deposited within this church for 22 ½ years. Let’s give God praise for that,” said the Rev. Dr. Diane Moffett, president and executive director of the Presbyterian Mission Agency. Moffett noted the gospel account when Martha “dissed her sister,” Mary.

“In any position of leadership, there are hosannas and heartbreaks,” Moffett said. “What I’ve learned is you got that good portion.”

Even with “so many clients who are part of the PC(USA),” said Kerry Rice, the deputy stated clerk speaking on behalf of the Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, II, Stated Clerk of the General Assembly, “we always felt tended to and cared for. You gave us great advice across the board, and you made sure your staff did the same.”

The Investment & Loan Program’s CEO, James Rissler, said it was Clark’s work crafting the program’s foundational documents — and her “compassion for what we do and her belief that we could do what we wanted to do” — that “got us where we are today.”

“On the rare occasion we found ourselves on different sides of an issue,” Rissler said, “it was mutual respect and a good working relationship that made it easy to find common ground.”

“Without Martha, I don’t know if we would have ‘Inc.’ after our name,” said Susan Jackson-Dowd, executive director of Presbyterian Women, who said she was grateful for three Clark attributes: professionalism, expertise and good humor. “Consider yourself a lifetime member of Presbyterian Women as you walk away from these doors.

Clark earned her bachelor’s degree from Western Kentucky University and master’s and her Juris Doctor from the University of Louisville. The general counsel serves at least eight of the PC(USA)’s facets: the PMA and Office of the General Assembly, the General Assembly itself, the A Corporation, the Investment and Loan Program, Presbyterian Women, the PMA Board and the Committee on the Office of the General Assembly.

The Rev. Dr. Paul Huh, the PMA’s associate for Korean translation, presented Clark with Korean calligraphy he created of her favorite Bible verse, Philippians 3:14: “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.”

The work included a familiar-looking symbol of a person on the move.

“I got the idea,” Huh said with a smile, “from the Exit sign.”


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