But in the case of this year’s honoree, Gene Clare, a fall or two made the presentation of the award a whole lot more fun.
“Gene could eat ice cream and hurt himself,” longtime friend Duane Schnittker joked at last Saturday’s soirée in Clare’s honor. It was one of countless references made by a steady procession of attendees to the microphone at the event held at the Nines restaurant at the Brentwood Golf Club. Among those poking fun was Mayor Bob Taylor, who was on the Liberty Union High School Board of Trustees when Clare was made principal of Liberty High School.
“When we he hired this man, little did we know we were taking on a tremendous liability,” Taylor said, a reference to a nasty fall Clare had taken from the roof of his house last December while hanging Christmas lights. The result was eight broken ribs, a broken collarbone, a punctured lung and a vow to find a different way to decorate for the holidays. “You know, Gene, there’s a guy you can pay fifty bucks to do that for you,” Taylor quipped.
Clare’s lengthy résumé of public service includes eight years (and past presidency) with the Brentwood Rotary, board memberships with Police Activities League, CLARO (a computer-learning charity), A Place of Learning tutoring center and Brentwood Youth Commission. He helped make sure the East Bay Works job center stayed in Brentwood, and has logged countless hours helping the East Contra Costa Historical Society, Brentwood Regional Community Chest and myriad other local causes. He served a decade as Liberty’s principal and continues to help the community as the director of alternative education for the district.
And while most of those achievements received acknowledgment during the evening, it was his occasional pratfalls – the decorating fiasco, a broken leg in college, a pair of broken heels jumping a fence at Liberty – that provided much of the material for a side-splitting film of his life put together by former Brentwood police chief Mike Davies.
“My life with him is exactly as you just saw (in the film),” said Gretchen, Clare’s wife of 23 years. “It’s always an adventure, and most of them revolve around some idea he’s hatched that will mean the betterment of other people.”
One of the other ways Clare enhances the lives of others is through his singing. He’s performed with the Brentwood Community Band, sung the Star Spangled Banner at the CornFest, and is a member of the Brentwood Community United Methodist Church Choir. Clare relayed a story about that when it came his turn to take the mic.
“My grandaughter Julie told me she was so excited for the award I was getting,” he said. “She said ‘It’s for singing, right?’ I told her no, it’s for helping people, and she said ‘Good, because you’re too old for American Idol.’”
He recalled the moment at the Chamber’s annual installation-of-officers dinner when it was announced that he had been named Citizen of the Year, an event that took place shortly after he’d been released from the hospital following his fall.
“Chris Becnel told me congratulations, and then put the whole thing in perspective for me: He said, ‘Good thing you didn’t die, huh?’
“I’m so blessed to be alive, and thankful for that,” Clare continued. “I guess God’s work for me isn’t done yet.”
And the reason he enthusiastically throws himself into that work?
“Basically it’s for selfish reasons,” he told the audience. “I get to be with people like you, people that are helping those less fortunate than themselves … The people in this room (including the 10 previous honorees in attendance) share this award with me and are to be honored, too, because you make the world a better place.
“Thank you all for the award and for coming tonight. It’s an honor I will cherish the rest of my life.”