Thomas Clarke, M.D. 1966
Dr. Thomas E. Clarke has had an illustrious career as an orthopedic surgeon in the United States Navy and in his hometown of Springfield, Massachusetts. At Dartmouth, he captained Dartmouth’s first Lambert Trophy team in 1965. After graduation, he earned a medical degree at Harvard, and then returned to Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center for his residency.
Having to keep pace with a Princeton team that would bring a 17-game undefeated streak into the final Saturday of the 1965 season, unbeaten Dartmouth could ill afford to stub its toe in a tight game with Harvard.
Dartmouth captain Tom Clarke knew the Big Green’s back was against the wall. A potential pro prospect as a junior tight end who had shifted to defensive end as a senior after a broken ankle robbed him of his speed, Clarke was confident Bob Blackman’s team was well-prepared for the challenge.
"We were up 14-0 and Harvard had a first-and-goal at the 2," he recalled. "That’s about as tough as it gets. In a situation like that, you rely on your teammates. You rely on your training. You do what you’re supposed to do, and we stopped them."
For Clarke, whose team would finish the season with a 28-14 victory at Princeton and see the Lambert Trophy reside in Hanover for the first time, the lessons that enabled his team to keep Harvard out of the end zone went hand in hand with his career as an orthopedic surgeon.
"It’s 2 in the morning and I am there with a scrub nurse, an anesthesiologist and a mangled limb," Clarke said. "At that point you would rely on your training or coaching. You rely on the kind of experience you had in football, where if you just persevere and follow good principles, usually, not always, but usually it works out."
Winner of the Archibald Prize as the top athlete in Dartmouth’s senior class and the Nils "Swede" Nelson Sportsmanship award over a field of nominees that included players from Notre Dame, USC, Alabama and Illinois.
He’s incredibly proud of the leadership role the Ivy League and Dartmouth have taken in the fight against CTE as they strive to make the game that taught him so many valuable lessons safer for future generations.
"All of us who have had orthopedic injuries or an arthritic limp around the golf course say, ‘Oh, it was worth every second of it. It was worth it for the euphoria and camaraderie of Ivy League football.’ But concussion is never worth it," he said. "To have dementia. To have depression. To have suicide."
"There are some guys my age who wonder what football is coming to with no tackling in practice and all that. I couldn’t agree more with what they are doing. I am so proud of Buddy Teevens and the work that they have done at Dartmouth with the robotic tackling dummy, and no tackling in practice. We have to do everything we can to prevent concussions."
Ironically, it was the care he got for his ankle injury on the football field and then an ACL injury in his final lacrosse game as a senior that ultimately helped Clarke find his calling as an orthopedic surgeon. It’s something he wouldn’t trade for anything.
"A Vietnam vet gave me a plaque with his Silver Star for saving his leg," he said. "There was talk about amputation and we worked it out. The plaque was for ‘the saving of life and limb.’ Not to take anything away from anything else, but that’s an award.
"Football experience helps you have the confidence to go ahead with something like that and do it when the chips are down. That was a privilege and an honor, and it makes it all worthwhile."
Dr. Clarke lives in Wilbraham, Massachusetts with his wife Donna and has three children and five grandchildren.