An American Life

My stepfather, William P. Clancey, Jr. died on January 26, 2011.

His story is so quintessentially “American” that I can only shake my head in disbelief that the fullness of his life was lived by just one man.

Born in the east he attended the Milton Academy for a short time before being shipped off to a reform school in New Mexico. From there he found his way to the University of Colorado but not before enlisting in the Marine Corps at 17 years old and serving in the South Pacific during World War II. He fought at Guadalcanal. He was offshore at Iwo Jima. He was in the flotilla during the signing of unconditional surrender on the USS Missouri.  Just a few years ago, on the anniversary of the attack on Iwo Jima, this deeply private, soft-spoken man wept at the memory of the loss he witnessed, the destruction he carried with him, like so many others, for the rest of his days.

He returned home long enough to transfer from Colorado to Cal, the school that would hold his affection forever, only to find himself back at war a few years later, this time in Korea. He served with distinction, was honorably discharged at the rank of Captain and was finally able to get home and get his civilian life underway.

First, it was law. He graduated from Boalt Hall and served as an assistant district attorney in San Francisco.  Then came a higher calling and W.P. Clancey, Esq became Rev. Clancey. He served at All Souls Parish in Berkeley in the 1960s and 70’s and, once again, he was right in the middle of the action. His life was touched both by the Harvey Milk assassination and, more personally, by the Jonestown massacre, losing a family member in the mass suicide.

He lived out his vocation by answering the call to serve parishes all over the Bay Area. He was known as a “priest of priests,” the list of those he mentored, encouraged and supported through the years far too long to mention.

He was incredibly smart but never put on heirs. Humble and focused, his was truly the “life of the mind and the heart of the gospel” to quote a Jesuit father I once knew. Most importantly, he was an unfailing servant. From his country to the law to every priest, parish and parishioner who called on him, Bill was there to do his part, to challenge and to support, to befriend and to console.

I most loved and respected his profound skepticism of authority, his commitment to remaining a “humble priest” rather than pursuing higher office in the church which would have pulled him away from those he had committed to serve.

As for my mother, he met her twice in his life. The first time was in the late 1960’s when my dad brought him home from seminary to be my sister’s Godfather. They met again about 10 years ago and in the reconnection began a courtship that would become a marriage, giving him a partner that would gently see him through the final battle of his life.

I am deeply grateful to have known this servant of men, this servant of God, if only for a few short years. His model and example will remain with me always as I strive to lead a life of and for others.

Thank you, Bill. May you rest in peace.

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