After a lifetime in TV news, this 83-year-old Nova Scotian finally finished university

After a lifetime in TV news, this 83-year-old Nova Scotian finally finished university

At a Dalhousie University convocation ceremony this spring, graduates beamed as they crossed the stage, one by one, while family and friends clapped and cheered.

An Indigenous elder offered a blessing to the “children.”

And as Ken Clark’s name was called, the audience joined his daughters and granddaughter in rising to their feet, hooting and hollering. The class of 2024 gave one of their own a long standing ovation.

Then one of his family members screamed out: “Finally!”

Clark is Dal’s oldest graduate this year.

“Astounding,” said the 83-year-old, his eyes misty after earning his bachelor of arts degree. “I guess the grey hair does that to people.”  

For Clark, this moment was more than 60 years in the making.

Juvenile Jury was a kids game show that aired on CJCB Radio and was recorded in Sydney, Nova Scotia.
Clark was cast on the CJCB radio program Juvenile Jury, a children’s talk show, when he was around 12. He’s third from the left in the top row. (Ken Clark)

Back in 1961, he was in his final year of studies at the Halifax university, but spent more time acting, singing and directing plays and musicals with the Dalhousie Glee and Dramatic Society.

He seemed destined to work in broadcasting, having performed on popular programs such as Juvenile Jury, a radio show featuring kids, and Singalong Jubilee, a long-running national CBC TV show that showcased legends such as Anne Murray and Gene MacLellan.

So it wasn’t a stretch for him to land a job working for CBHT-TV, now called CBC Nova Scotia. 

WATCH | Graduating from Dalhousie topped Ken Clark’s bucket list: 

It took him 63 years to get his university degree but he has no regrets

Ken Clark of Berwick, N.S., had a long and storied career in TV broadcasting. But there’s one achievement the 83-year-old waited decades to check off his bucket list — a Dalhousie University degree.

That job kicked off a career spanning six decades over two continents — but also likely one of the longest breaks from school Dalhousie’s ever seen.

Clark worked behind the scenes on educational programs for Nova Scotia’s school system, a musical variety show called Kingfisher Cove, and on the station’s first supper hour news magazine, Gazette. Its hosts were household names and became CBC icons.  

“Nobody went anywhere without checking in with Rube Hornstein and the weather and Don Tremaine [the host],” said Clark.

By the 1970s, Clark was on the ground floor of ATV, Atlantic Television System, the forerunner to CTV Atlantic.

He made the move to New Brunswick in the ’80s when the Irving family picked him to run their CBC-affiliate TV station in Saint John. At the time, they owned major newspapers in the province.

“There are some people who felt the Irvings were influencing us every day, which they were not, except that they expected us to run a good broadcasting operation,” he said.

Ken Clark, founder of MITV News with Bruce Graham and Laura Lee Langley.
Ken Clark announced the debut of MITV News with television anchor Bruce Graham in 1988. (CBC)

The Irvings turned to him again in 1988 to launch MITV, which represented a shakeup of the broadcast landscape in the Maritimes. MITV was eventually sold and is now Global Halifax.

After more career stops in Winnipeg and New Zealand in the 1990s, Clark relocated to Fiji. His task: expand Fiji TV’s 6 o’clock news to reach across the scattered islands forming the South Pacific nation. About three-quarters of the population had access. But reaching Fijians across its 110 inhabited islands was a greater challenge.

Two coups targeted TV station

He’d barely arrived when a coup d’etat in 2000 rocked the nation. Mobs threw rocks at the TV station, smashing equipment as workers fled through the back door. 

Six years later, there was another coup. Freedom of the press was at stake. Censors were sent in to review news scripts, and dictated what could be reported.

“I said, ‘Boy, I don’t like that very much.’ So we decided we wouldn’t run the news that night,” said Clark at his home in Berwick, N.S.

On that first night, he had a disclaimer flash on the screen announcing the newscast had been pulled because of censorship, then alternate programming was aired. 

“I think that delivered a message that said, ‘OK, times are different now.'”

In order to make countrywide television a reality in Fiji, Clark took a satellite service provider to court in The Hague in 2004 and won the lawsuit. News, rugby, and other TV programs became available across Fiji and beyond.

For his service, Clark was offered membership to the Order of Fiji.

“I consulted with my wife and she said, ‘If you don’t do this, I’ll divorce you.’ And so I called them back and said, ‘Yes, that’ll be fine, thank you very much.'”

Ken and Sally Clark. This photo was taken in 2022 when she turned 78.
Ken and Sally Clark celebrating her birthday in 2022. They’ve been married almost 60 years. (Ken Clark)

By July 2020, Clark had been retired for several years in Fiji. The couple made the arduous journey back home to Canada at a time when most flights were grounded because of the pandemic. He was 79, his wife, Sally, 76.

“When I said to Sally, ‘OK, it’s time for us to move to Canada,’ she said, ‘OK, but I have to have a dog,'” he said.

Their daughter Tory Clark helped them adopt a golden retriever, Mumble.

Ticking off the bucket list

That left a long-held wish: finishing university.

“I was over at an Easter dinner at our daughter’s place in Enfield. I just said, ‘Well, this is on my bucket list for a very long, long time. It’s unfinished business,'” said Clark.

A close family friend who works in academia, Mary Bluechardt, helped get the ball rolling and Clark soon learned he could graduate if he completed a science course, no mean feat for the arts student.

Ken Clark is congratulated by family friend Mary Bluechardt on stage at his convocation.
Family friend and deputy provost at Ontario Tech University, Mary Bluechardt, surprised Clark by congratulating him on stage. (Dave Laughlin/CBC)

Clark chose economics 1101 and went back to school in the fall of 2023.

“I had to retrain my brain because I hadn’t been in an official learning situation for quite a long time,” he said.  

He made the 1.5-hour drive to Halifax twice a week to attend lectures with about 250 students his granddaughter’s age, opting to read an actual textbook instead of relying on online materials. 

Ken Clark studying economics at a kitchen table.
Clark said he preferred to study classical microeconomic theory from a physical textbook. (Ken Clark)

Jane Woodworth, one of his three children, acknowledged the health-care workers who supported her father as he recovered from a small stroke shortly after his return to Nova Scotia. They were part of his journey to reach his goal.

“We might not have made it to this point, so there’s been many hands in getting us to today,” she said after the convocation ceremony. “It’s never too late to finish something that you’ve started if that’s your path.”

“Never give up,” Clark chimed in.

Now the new grad is ready for what’s next.

“I can tick that off the bucket list…. I’ll be looking for a job now,” he said with a smile.

Ken Clark at his home in Berwick, N.S. on June 14, 2024.
Clark in his sunroom on June 14, 2024, where he did most of his studying. (Paul Poirier/CBC)
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