David S. Clifton, Jr., at the summit of Maine’s Mount Katahdin, the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail, in September.
By Michelle E. Shaw
It took him six years, but in September David Clifton completed his section hike of the Appalachian Trail, atop Maine’s Mount Katahdin.
As soon has he returned home, he started looking for his next adventure, said his wife, Eileen Cooley.
“He was looking at the John Muir Trail and the El Camino trail,” she said. “He enjoyed the challenge of the trail and he wanted to do it again.”
But in October, before David S. Clifton Jr. could choose his next destination, he received devastating news: a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. He died Sunday from complications of the cancer. He was 69. His body will be cremated by the Neptune Society, and a memorial service is scheduled for 10:30 a.m. Sunday at The Temple, Atlanta.
Born in North Carolina, Clifton came to Atlanta to attend Georgia Tech, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in industrial engineering. He later earned an MBA and a doctorate in economics from Georgia State University. He worked at Georgia Tech from 1970 until 2001, where he was a research scientist and led several initiatives.
Clifton was known as an encourager and cheerleader. His motto, his wife said, was, “Never give up, never make excuses, have fun.” He was the same way at work, said Gayle Warren, a former Georgia Tech colleague.
“He was always helping someone or encouraging someone,” she said. “When I wanted to go back to school, at age 40, he was right there helping me, and anybody else he could.”
And that encouragement was returned by friends and family as Clifton embarked on his more than 2,000-mile hike of the Appalachian Trail over six years. He would spend weeks at a time tackling sections of the trail, said his wife, whom he met on a Sierra Club hike in 1981.
“He’d stay out 30 or 35 days, hiking,” she said. “And he had a very careful plan, and he planned our vacations the same way.”
Cooley said her husband’s ability to meticulously organize a family vacation likely was a product of his career as a research scientist. But that never got in the way of a good time.
“He was a great planner, but he was good at being spontaneous,” she said. “He thought it was important for people to enjoy life.”
In addition to his wife, Clifton is survived by two sons from his first marriage, Mark Clifton of the Philippines and Derek Clifton; a daughter and son from his second marriage, Dana Clifton of Durham, N.C., and Michael Clifton of Madison, Wis.; mother, Ruth Clifton of Pompano Beach, Fla.; brother, Dan Clifton of Raleigh N.C.; sister, Libby Clifton of Phoenix, Ariz.; and three grandchildren.