Alice Billings Thompson Clark, retired vice president for academic affairs, died May 10 at age 94. She was the first woman to hold a vice president’s or administrative position at a North Dakota university, and served at UND for 27 years before retiring in 1992.
The Alice T. Clark Faculty Mentoring Program is named for her, and she financially supported the program throughout her retirement years. It has helped more than 500 new faculty members at UND develop professional and personal networks, increase their awareness of campus culture and resources, and supported their professional development as teachers and scholars.
Clark was born on March 2, 1926, in Oneida Station, Idaho, to Hazel (Justesen) and Melvin Thompson, a family member noted in eulogizing her. She grew up in Salt Lake City, Utah.
She earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Utah in 1947. She later received her master’s and Ph.D. in educational psychology from Brigham Young University.
On March 21, 1947, she married Selby Clark. They raised four boys, Fredrick (Selby), Gordon, Terrence, and Riley, and two daughters, Sherrie Ellen and Laurie Ann.
The family lived in Minneapolis; Lubbock, Texas; Pullman, Wash.; and Portland, Ore., before settling in Provo, Utah, where Alice remained until 1965, when she moved to Grand Forks. After her retirement in 1991, she settled in Lake Oswego, Ore., and eventually to Roseburg, Ore.
From third grade teacher to vice president
Clark worked as a third grade teacher and advanced to a college professor and Vice President of Academic Affairs at UND. She was the first female university administrator in North Dakota.
Throughout her tenure at UND, she spoke before sessions of the North Dakota Legislature, traveled extensively, and coordinated the academic activities of then more than 11,000 students, while maintaining an open-door policy, meeting with deans, faculty, and students to help solve problems.
Former UND President Thomas Clifford described his nationwide search in 1981 for a Vice President of Academic Affairs: “I selected Alice because she was absolutely the best person in the nation for that job. And I have not been disappointed. She has sound professional judgment — with just the right dash of compassion — and an enormous concern for people.”
He described her as a superb coworker, able to state her point of view articulately, but totally cooperative when a decision was reached. Coordinating the interests of 12 strong-willed deans had been a challenge Alice met well, he said.
“She can build coalitions,” said Clifford. “She always gives credit where credit is due, and people love her and work with her.”
“When she calls another office, she doesn’t say, ‘This is Vice-President Clark,’ or, ‘This is Dr. Clark,’” Clark’s then-secretary said. “She thinks of herself as Alice Clark, and she never uses her title or her degree for any reason other than the good of the university.”
An expansive life
In March 1985, Clark was featured in an article in her church magazine.
“Every now and then you meet someone who has discovered the secret to a more expansive life — a life with more room for loving and serving, more room for caring and accomplishing. Alice Thompson Clark is one of those people,” the magazine said.
“Alice Clark is an energetic woman who mows her own lawn and always takes the stairs. Her mornings start early with scripture reading, meditation, and exercise. For relaxation, she loves watching a good play, writing a poem, painting in oils, and playing with her computer.
“Yet Alice Clark is not a compulsive overachiever. Although she is clearly a woman of diverse talents and vast organizational ability, her real secret is a matter of focus,” the magazine continued.
“Alice Clark has made her life roomier by learning to focus beyond herself. You would never hear about Alice’s achievements from Alice herself. She serves with the same lack of fanfare. When [her bishop’s] kids wanted to help [Alice] by shoveling her walks after a North Dakota snowstorm, she in turn shoveled someone else’s.”
Clark was well-known on campus for her religious commitment.
After retiring from UND, she served as a missionary in the England London South mission, taught English in China, and served additional missions in New Zealand Auckland, Oklahoma City, and Singapore. She also served as an ordinance worker in the Portland and Medford, Ore., temples.
In her free time, she enjoyed traveling with family, puzzles, theater and reading. She was a faithful letter writer, journal keeper and family history indexer. She filled her time in service to her family, her church and her community.
She was preceded in death by her parents Hazel and Melvin, her brother Kirk Thompson and his wife Marilyn, her sister Hazel Dunstan and her husband Bill as well as two grandchildren, Simon Clark and Levi Wieland.
She is survived by her sister Joanne Pugmire and her husband Roger, her six children and their spouses, Selby, Sherrie Wieland (Gerry), Gordon (Denise), Terrence (Laraine), Laurie Carleski (Robert) and Riley (Kathleen); in addition to her 22 grandchildren and 67 great grandchildren.