Joe Clark, Principal Portrayed In ‘Lean On Me,’ Dies At 82

The famous, no-nonsense, unconventional disciplinarian principal Joe Louis Clark depicted in the 1989 film Lean On Me passed away on Tuesday (December 29) at the age of 82. 

Once the leader of Eastside High School in Paterson, New Jersey, Clark’s methods of reaching students, including carrying a baseball bat and bullhorn, were the inspiration behind the film. 

Clark was born in Rochelle, Georgia on May 8, 1938. His family moved to Newark, New Jersey when he was six years old. He went through grade school there, graduating from Newark Central High School before earning a bachelor’s from what is now William Paterson University. Clark received his master’s degree from Seton Hall University and an honorary doctorate from the US Sports Academy. 

His time as a US Army Reserve Sergeant and Drill Instructor after college instilled respect, discipline, and achievement that shaped his more than 30-year career in education. 

Clark started his career in education as a teacher and the Director of Camps and Playgrounds in Essex County, New Jersey. He then went on to become Principal at PS 6 Grammar School, turning the failing school into a success. 

He then took on the role of principal at Eastside High School which was notorious for crime and drugs. Clark reportedly expelled 300 kids in one day for a variety of offenses including fighting, drug possession, vandalism, and abusing teachers. 

His methods gained respect and critics. The baseball bat he carried wasn’t a weapon, but, as he said, a symbol that students could either choose to strike out or achieve their potential and hit a home run.

His success earned him recognition from President Ronald Reagan who’d offered him an advisory position. Clark declined the offer, citing his dedication to his students and the community. Before the film depicting his work came out, Clark had appeared on 60 Minutes, the Arsenio Hall Show, and earned the cover spot on TIME Magazine

Clark retired to Gainesville, Florida, where he passed away. He leaves three children, Joetta Clark Diggs, Hazel Clark, and Joe Clark Jr., and three grandchildren, Talitha, Jorell, and Hazel

Photo: Getty Images

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