In Honor of Our 8th Chair, Keith Clarke


The entire geography Department chipped in to host a ceremony at the Faculty Club on June 8 in order to toast (and roast) our long-standing Chair, Keith Clarke, who will formally pass his duties over to Oliver Chadwick on July 1 after 5 ½ years of exemplary service. Jeff Onsted, speaking on behalf of Keith’s grad students, set the tone for the event by opening the ceremony with a humorous and captivating commentary on Keith’s dedication to his students, his “stiff upper lip” when under pressure, and his impressive modesty when it came to his equally impressive accolades (“he once apologized for backing out of a scheduled game of racquet ball, because he had to attend some award ceremony. I was tempted to tell him I couldn’t play next week either, because I’d won the Pulitzer Prize”).

Nancy Ponce presented Keith with several gifts on behalf of the department staff members. With the deftness and wit of a Hollywood MC, Nancy doled out file folders (“about time he had his own”), sign-here-stickies (even Keith admitted he finds it hard to now sign anything without one in place), and, “because Keith has a tendency to lose them,” a UCSB pen. She then moved on to more serious gifts afforded by department donations. Because Keith loves to travel and is into cartography, there was a GPS Navigation System (some digital assembly required) that consisted of an Atlas. A mode of transport (albeit low-tech) came next in the form of Croc shoes. And then the “reel” presents began.

It turned out, that despite blatant attempts to find out what Keith would “really like,” the best that his nearest and dearest could come up with was, wait for it, things to do with fishing! So, because Keith can “tackle” any problem, he got a tackle box (filled with lures); because he deserved a “real” present, he got a (fishing) reel; because he’s passing the Chair “baton” on, he got a (fishing) rod; and, because he’s a cartographer, he got a (fishing) line. With his typical modesty, Keith expressed surprise that his fishing line was rated at 18 pounds—he claims that he’s never caught a trout over 12 pounds at Lake Cachuma. But, as Nancy went on to point out, according to Reg Golledge’s First Law of Behavioral Geographic Fishing, “Of all the liars among mankind, the fisherman is the most trustworthy.” As a “final afterthought,” Keith was also given a more politically correct memento in the form of a globe on a plaque inscribed with his dates of service.

Keith, of course, handled all of the accolades, presents, and applause with his usual aplomb. He commented wryly that, on his first day as a newly appointed Chair with no clear idea of what the job might entail, ex-Chair Mike Goodchild walked into his office and quietly handed him a small metal door plaque that read “Chairman.” As Keith learned, the plaque may be small, but the job entails a huge amount of time, energy, diplomacy, and, above all, commitment to advancing the discipline and its mission. As editor, I think that I speak on behalf of the entire department in thanking Keith for his remarkable and successful efforts to make our department one of the best, if not the best, in the nation, and for steering the helm of the department through some rough economic and political waters during his tenure. May his own ventures into fishing waters be equally productive, less stressful, and more enjoyable. Thanks, Keith—and tight lines!

P.S. Keith, with his usual panache, sent everyone at Geography the following message the next day:A huge thank you for the collective expression of good will yesterday. As I pass the “baton” to Oliver Chadwick as the incoming Chair on 7-1-06, I know that whatever the Department’s rank, we have the best staff, best students and best faculty anywhere, of any Department and any University, and will continue to in the years to come. Thanks to one and all for the wonderful reception and gifts. For once I was overwhelmed and speechless, but now I say a huge thanks to one and all. It’s been a pleasure to serve as chair. Best wishes to Oliver as he takes the helm. May he have smooth sailing.

Article by Bill Norrington; Photos by Guylene Gadal

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