Clisby Clarke tried piano lessons when he was nine years old, but soon decided he didn’t need them. He couldn’t read a single note of music, anyway, and instead learned to play completely by ear.
“He just sat down and taught himself,” said his daughter, Katherine Clarke Buckner of Athens. “If he heard a song on the radio, he could knock it out in about 10 minutes. He was fantastic.”
So fantastic, in fact, that when former University of Georgia football player Herschel Walker signed to play with the Bulldogs in 1980, the university contacted Clarke to write a fight song worthy of the school’s new talent.
And since Clarke was a UGA graduate with extended experience in advertising, he was the university’s top choice for the writing of the popular song “Bulldog Bite,” his daughter said.
“The athletic department knew he was a local phenomenon for jingles,” she said. “So he wrote it, penned it and composed it, and it was ready for the 1980 season.”
The song was a fan favorite at tailgates and parties on football Saturdays in Athens, and in 1981 Clarke wrote a follow-up to the song called “Let the Big Dog Eat.”
George Clisby Clarke of Atlanta died Sunday of a heart attack while sleeping at his summer home in Highlands, N.C. He was 72.
His memorial service is scheduled for 11 a.m. Thursday at Peachtree Road United Methodist Church. A reception will immediately follow at Capital City Country Club in Brookhaven. H.M. Patterson & Son Oglethorpe Hill Chapel was in charge of cremation arrangements.
Clarke graduated from UGA with a bachelor’s degree in business in 1964 before completing a year’s worth of graduate study at the University of Illinois in 1965 and beginning his career with Procter & Gamble. A few years later the family moved to Westport, Conn., where Clarke worked until the family moved back to Atlanta in 1972.
Once here, Clarke joined the McCann-Erickson advertising agency and served as the company’s executive vice president and general manager, while also serving as chairman of Fitzgerald+CO until his retirement in 1999.
Clarke was one of the best when it came to marketing, but he wasn’t all work and no play, said Dave Fitzgerald, CEO of Fitzgerald+CO.
“He really loved advertising and he really loved life,” he said. “So he was good at both. He lived his life on his own terms, and he lived it large.”
Since its inception, Clarke had also been chairman of the Hospitality Business Network Foundation, which holds fundraisers such as the annual Turkey Trot Invitational to raise money for different charities and nonprofits such as the Shepherd Center and the Navy Safe Harbor Foundation.
On June 1, the HBN will hold an event in the Oceans Ballroom at the Georgia Aquarium called the “Patriots Dinner” as a tribute to wounded warriors and Medal of Honor recipients, and Clarke’s advertising mind was key in the development and planning of the sold-out event, Fitzgerald said.
“He’s a marketer’s marketer,” he said. “It was his marketing savvy that’s going to make this first-time event so successful.”
Throughout his lifetime, Clarke gave back to his community by doing everything from writing songs to managing fundraising events, and his ability to live life to the fullest left a lasting impression, Buckner said.
“He packed 140 years into 72,” she said. “He was just a big bright star and the world just seems a bit dimmer to me now.”
In addition to his daughter Katherine, Clarke is survived by his wife of nearly 50 years, Bunny Heyward Clarke of Atlanta; another daughter, Caroline Clarke Boggs of Richmond, Va.; and five grandchildren.