Adventure seeker, builder, guy who got things done. Born on Jan. 25, 1956, in Sydney, N.S.; died on March 9, 2014, in Ottawa, of complications following surgery for lung cancer, aged 58.
The restless middle child of Doug and Yvonne Clarke, Jeff blew into the world amid a weather system touting gale-force winds. It was a challenge for his mother to keep the adventurous toddler corralled and she would often find him, having escaped the harness, dismantling and reassembling anything within reach – radios, toasters, clocks.
His love of family life took hold, no doubt, while launching apple cores from the fins of the station wagon that ferried the family across the country and back during their father’s early career as a broadcaster and television executive. By the time they settled in Halifax in 1962, there were seven kids, six of them boys.
They were a rowdy lot growing up and Jeff was among the first to assert his independence. Resourceful and self-reliant, he quit Saint Mary’s University in his first year, shaved his head (long before it was fashionable) and boarded an icebreaker bound for Baffin Island and the Arctic Circle. In the spring of 1975 he returned home to join Fireside Realty, the family real estate company.
He thrived in business and soon secured a position with P.M. Robinson and Associates, in commercial and condo development in Atlantic Canada. The job took him to St. John’s, where he spent some fun-filled years. He also became a volunteer with the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada, as an advance man and co-ordinator for then-prime minister Brian Mulroney’s tours of the region.
The economic meltdown of the 1980s saw a drop in real estate investment, so Jeff switched career gears and joined the staff in the Prime Minister’s Office. There he assisted and accompanied Mr. Mulroney on state visits and to international summits.
The change of government in 1993 required Jeff to again reinvent himself. By then married to his beloved Margie, he was determined to succeed, driven by his sense of responsibility as a father of two young boys, Jeffrey and Cody. Daughter Victoria arrived within two years.
His intense work focus led him to build two companies in Ottawa, including Inflector Environmental Services. He was a demanding taskmaster, but he was generous with his time and talent and set an example for his children by steadily giving more of himself than he expected of others.
Although photos of Jeff with world leaders lined the walls of his office, he was most proud of the family pictures on display. He travelled abroad with each of his children, exposing them to global affairs, and supported their burgeoning interests, from skate boarding to skiing to dance. Family brought balance to his life.
An adherent of Malcolm Gladwell’s rule that it takes 10,000 hours of practise to truly a master a skill, Jeff worked hard and played hard, mastering business as easily thoroughly as he did the ski slopes and golf courses of the world. As his son, Jeffrey, said, “He did so much it’s like he lived a hundred years.”
His best work resulted in the building of the family cottage, overlooking Lac Heney in the Gatineau Hills. There he revelled in his family, and enjoyed playing with an array of big-boy toys.
Perhaps the most profound change in his too-short life came toward the end (but before his cancer diagnosis). Despite a lifelong phobia of dogs, he yielded to decades of pressure from Margie and found one for her. A Barbet puppy named Chancy penetrated Jeff’s tough exterior, providing a rare glimpse of his softer side, and bringing him a sense of peace and contentment.
Elizabeth Clarke is married to Jeff’s eldest brother, Peter.