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Children grant late father's 50-state wish

It was a goal George Clark mentioned fairly frequently for a man so quiet and soft-spoken. To visit each of the 50 states was his ambition, and he entered 2006 just one short.

The final piece in Clark's geographical puzzle was Alaska, a destination he had hoped to visit sometime this year via a cruise with his wife, Ann. But that cruise never came about, a heart attack in July taking Clark's life at age 64.

His unexpected death was startling, leaving his family shocked and saddened. But from that sorrow came an idea, a way for Clark's children - Doug, Julie and Brian - to honor their father and provide closure for themselves.

The trio of Brookwood grads would go north to Alaska, their father's ashes in tow, and make sure the man they had looked up to all their lives accomplished one final goal.

"He'd always say, 'I'm going to Alaska,'" said Brian Clark, director of tennis at Spring Valley Country Club in Columbia, S.C. "He always wanted to reach his goal."

An insurance broker with Swett and Crawford, George Clark was well liked by clients as well as co-workers. An amiable sort, the longtime Snellville resident was friendly but quiet, just as willing to listen to a story as tell one.

That personality made his quest so amusing to his children. Never one to put himself ahead of other people, let alone family members, he mentioned his goal enough that his children were well aware.

"My dad was a quiet person," said Julie Fleming, who is director of admissions for Reinhardt College. "For him to express that (goal) to us, there was no doubt he wanted to do this."

A stint in the Army, where he won the Bronze Star, and a professional career in the insurance business propelled Clark in his quest. But some states proved tougher than others, even for a guy handy with an atlas.

North Dakota was one of those. Business may take you to Boston, and family may get you Florida, but North Dakota doesn't accidentally pop up in many travel plans. So Clark had to work for that one.

It's a story his family loves to tell. A few years ago, with a weekend free, Clark flew to Minneapolis on a Saturday, rented a car and drove to North Dakota. He spent the night in a town just past the Minnesota border, got up the next morning, drove back to Minneapolis and came home.

Forty-nine down, one to go.

"I gave him a little bit of a hard time about that," said Doug Clark, a physical education teacher at Norcross Elementary. "But his thing was: 'When will I ever get a chance to go to North Dakota?'"

Alaska also proved elusive, but this past Christmas Clark told his daughter about plans for the cruise. With that knowledge, the kids knew what they wanted to do to honor him. They would get their dad to Alaska.

Half of Clark's ashes were spread at Cannon United Methodist Church and the rest were saved for the trip. The Clark kids flew to Anchorage two weeks ago, finding a fitting place to honor their dad at Kenai Fjords National Park.

In a secluded spot facing Exit Glacier and overlooking a small stream, they buried his ashes and marked the spot by aligning a group of stones into a cross.

It was emotional - "like a second memorial," Doug said - and fulfilling. No. 50 was truly a family affair.

"I don't know if I've ever done anything that's meant more to me," Brian said. "When we got back Doug said, 'Mission accomplished.' This wasn't a vacation. It was a mission."

E-mail Todd Cline at todd.cline@gwinnettdailypost.com. His column appears on Tuesdays.Have any thoughts about this column? Share them with us at letters@gwinnettdailypost.com. Letters should be no more than 200 words and are subject to approval by the publisher. Letters may be edited for style and space requirements. Please sign your name and provide an address and a daytime telephone number. Address letters for publication to: Letters to the Editor, Gwinnett Daily Post, P.O. Box 603, Lawrenceville, GA 30046-0603. The fax number is 770-339-8081.