Joe Clark, former NJ principal who inspired 'Lean on Me,' dies at age 82

Joe Louis Clark, a former Paterson principal who inspired the film "Lean on Me," has died at the age of 82, his family says.

News 12 Staff

Dec 30, 2020, 12:20 PM

Updated 1,260 days ago

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Joe Louis Clark, a former Paterson principal who inspired the film "Lean on Me," has died at the age of 82, his family says.
He became principal of crime- and drug-ridden Eastside High School with new enthusiasm. Clark expelled 300 students for fighting, vandalism, abusing teachers and drug possession.
As principal, he gained admirers and critics for roaming the hallways with a bullhorn and a baseball bat. He says that the bat was a symbol of choice: a student could either strike out or hit a home run.
Clark was offered a White House policy adviser position by President Ronald Reagan after seeing the quick changes at the school. The New Jersey resident declined the position because of his dedication to his community and students.
The former New Jersey principal is also the father of Olympian Joetta Clark Diggs.
His education career spanned three decades, and he retired from Eastside High School in 1989.
Clark, a longtime resident of South Orange, retired to Florida and died at his home with his family after a long battle with an illness.
Paterson Mayor Andre Sayegh reacted to the news, saying: "Paterson has lost a legend. Joe Clark spoke strongly and carried a big stick. If anyone needs to see what type of positive influence he had on his students then I suggest they watch 'Lean On Me.'"
Paterson Superintendent Eileen Shafer also released a statement, saying: "He demanded more from his students because he believed they could achieve more than what was expected of them. And with his bullhorn and baseball bat, Joe Clark courageously stood in the way of anyone who dared to try to lure a young person down the wrong path. Our hearts are deeply saddened by Joe Clark's passing, and our prayers are with family and friends."


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