Clark Cottrell may not be a household name for most people, but he is one of my heroes. Clark is my mother’s father, and though he died when I was only six years old, I think that much of my temperament and character have been modeled after him.
Clark was the oldest of five children, the son of a Methodist minister. The family moved frequently, mostly living in the northwestern U.S. during his childhood. Clark studied English at Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington, and graduated in the summer of 1940. When the U.S. entered World War II after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Clark joined the U.S. Navy and trained as a pilot flying the PBY Catalina. The Catalina was a reconnaissance/bomber, and Clark’s squadron was tasked with interrupting Japanese shipping lanes between the Solomon Islands of the South Pacific Ocean. Clark and his crew earned the Distinguished Flying Cross for landing in open waters behind enemy lines to rescue a downed airman. While serving in the South Pacific, Clark contracted malaria and was transferred to convalesce in Hawaii, where he met Dorothy Carle, the Navy nurse whom he would later marry.
After the war Clark and Dorothy moved to the Aberdeen area of Washington state. Steady work was difficult to find during this era, but Clark was a hard worker and took jobs on a crab fishing boat, in a lumber mill, and writing for the local newspaper. He also began investing in real estate and property development. Clark became involved in local politics and campaigned for Adlai Stevenson during the 1960 primary presidential elections. He was selected as a delegate to the Democratic National Convention that year, and when John F. Kennedy won the party’s nomination, Clark supported his campaign. After Kennedy won the presidential race, Clark’s service was rewarded with a job working for the U.S. Postal Department and later a position in the Army Corps of Engineers.
Clark loved to read and write. He was an avid golfer, fisherman, and hunter, and he also loved to travel. One of my favorite memories of my grandfather is a road trip we took together to the rustic lakeside cabin on Lac Des Roches in British Columbia when I was five years old. He also owned a small airplane, a Stinson 108, and hearing my mother retell stories of his skill and judgement as a pilot inspired my own passion for aviation. Even though I never had the opportunity to fly with him, I’ve often felt like he has been at my side while flying.
I put Clark on this list of people who inspire me for several different reasons. His brief influence at a young age left an indelible impact on my character. In particular, I remember him as an introspective, distinguished, and compassionate man—characteristics I have tried to emulate in my own life. My mother summarized his character in a single word: honorable. I can hardly think of a better quality to be known by.
Grandpa struggled with his own demons. His youngest brother, Francis, died in a crash while training to become a pilot during World War II and Clark carried the grief of that loss with him throughout his life. I never knew of his silent struggle until many years after his death. To me, Clark remains the epitome of dignity and love, and I feel honored to call him Grandpa.