Tuesday, April 12, 2011
Chapel Talk: "The Vocation of Public Service and the Life of William Power Clancey"
12 April 2011
The Reverend Jonathan A. Voorhees
St. Joseph’s Chapel, Kent School, with representatives from the United States Air Force Academy
Welcome to the Air Force Academy and Falcon Program representatives, Lt. General Kelley and Colonel Jones. We are honored to have you here at Kent School. I hope your time at Kent is fruitful. We enjoyed meeting you, the conversation and fellowship, at last night’s dinner. Thanks for all you shared about the mission of the Air Force and our common purpose as a nation.
From the words of one of my favorite movies, Casablanca: “I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”
Your visit became a cause for my own reflection here in chapel, on the theme of public service, and the important people who have shaped my life and yours. They are our role models and guideposts, the ones who point us to God and the future. They are the ultimate public servants, made for us and certainly for others in the service of God. They are teachers, parents, military officers, and sometimes even actual politicians who render service of commitment and integrity. These are the ones that help us to make the most of our gifts; or the ones that first give us confidence that we have gifts in the first place.
There are some people about whom you can say: Without this individual, I would not be here. For me that mentor was William Power Clancey. He was a cathedral dean in San Jose, California, who shepherded me through the political process towards ordination in the church. It’s actually a politically difficult process at times, and Bill got me through the maze, sometimes with style points, totally undeserved. Bill Clancey—Father Clancey was all about service--service to his country first and later to the church. Bill was a father figure to me when I desperately needed one. He was also a criminal lawyer, along with being an Episcopal priest. Powerful abilities and identities could be combined in a single individual, I learned that from Bill. That was one of the many interesting things about him. He had significant talents that were employed full time in helping others. As a priest, he printed his pager number in the Yellow Pages. He was nearly always on duty, ready to help a person in need. The joke was that he would always beat the ambulance to the hospital to meet the person in need. But it was no joke to Bill. Semper fi was a way of life for him.
Help is the ordinary and extraordinary offering of the public servant. Bill was a public servant with extraordinary abilities. Former Marine: I love that term. Some would say that there is no such thing as “former marine.” Like Gibbs on NCIS, if you watch that show. Gibbs reminds me of Bill. Bill was a lawyer and a marine and a priest all rolled into one, and he brought all of those experiences and abilities to the table. He certainly gave away lots of free legal advice. As a marine, he fought in two wars. He was an enlisted man, fighting in the Pacific in World War II. He came back as a captain in the Korean War. Just like Ted Williams as a marine pilot in both wars, losing many years of his playing career in baseball. Bill Clancey actually volunteered for Korea. He felt like it was his duty. After the war, Bill excelled as an undergraduate at UC Berkeley. He called Berkeley “The People’s Republic of Berkeley.” Even though he was a lifelong Republican, he always loved Berkeley: the largest open air mental health facility in the world, he called it. Bill collected three UC Berkeley degrees, including a JD from Boalt Law School, and then another degree in divinity from the local seminary, where I also went to school. Four degrees in Berkeley. He worked for the Justice Department in Washington as a criminal attorney, and then as Assistant District Attorney of San Francisco. Bill had serious skills, and he even had a cameo in the movie Milk when a real interview with him was placed in the documentary footage. Bill also argued a case before the United States Supreme Court. Of course he did this case pro bono. That was his style.
Last week, I was aware that something was wrong; there was some subtle change in the universe, like a change in the earth’s axis. Yes, sure enough, a mentor of mine had reached the end of his life—Bill had died. He had “crossed the Jordan,” as Bill loved to say about the end of the journey for all of us. I was able to read the obituary, and reflections by loved ones. But I also had to write this chapel talk. His wife described it as a “holy death.” It’s good to know that such a thing exists; it gives me comfort. He lived eighty-five years, and nearly all of that time was in public service: both military and religious. I’m sorry we lost touch, but I always assumed we would reconnect. I still look forward to that day in faith, the day when we’ll all be reunited. Bill was an active e-mail guy, but he never made it to Facebook. He was one of the lucky ones.
Bill was born in 1926. He was initially the golden boy of his Irish family. However, a blot on his early record came when he was expelled from Milton Academy; or rather, he was politely asked to pursue his education elsewhere. The charge was initially kidnapping. Because the local bishop’s son had gone missing, the police had been alerted of a missing person--the bishop’s son was nowhere to be found. Bill and the boy had just gone into Boston for an afternoon away from campus; they were playing hooky. No one seemed worried about Bill being missing. When the boys were located back on campus that evening, kidnapping was dropped to mere truancy. But it was enough to send Bill out to New Mexico to finish high school. Throughout his life, he took pride in being a black sheep in his family (just so you know, if I were a pilot, my call sign would be Black Sheep), but for Bill all adversity was just grist for the mill; it could and should make you stronger, wiser, a better human being. My theory is that it was at this moment of his development that Bill decided to be a lawyer. He did not believe he had been treated fairly. Bill loved a good legal battle all his life. The man could cut through red tape like a flame thrower, and I believe he preferred defending to prosecuting (though he was equally adept at both), especially if he thought someone powerful had abused his authority.
As mentioned, I know that I would not be here today without his expertise and constant stream of advice and wisdom, sometimes more than I wanted to hear, usually right on the mark. I literally would not be standing here. Bill was the first person who taught me you better have opinions and you better be able to express them. There is nothing noble in pretending to be wiser than you are, and just hiding, being aloof, or acting a part without intelligent engagement. Bill would catch me and challenge me to do better.
His one liners still echo in my mind. For a marine, he could be hilarious. He was a man of ready wit. People who serve and protect this country include every kind of personality you can imagine. It could include you some day. Just a case in point is the character of Abby on NCIS.
Father Clancey taught me that our duty in life is to make a difference; to make a difference to each other. That’s how God actually enters this world: through how we love each other as our spiritual vocation. I would encourage you to imagine forms of public service for your life, including service to your country in the military, or in ministry through the church to those in most dire need, or any helping position that seeks to truly better our world. Today, this chapel, the invitation to you is to imagine how your own skills are the ones most needed in a world with so many problems. May God bless you in the ways that you strive to make a difference.