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‘Our Man in Arlington,’ local historian Charlie Clark, dies at 70

Charlie Clark holds his book, ‘Hidden History of Arlington’ (via Charlie Clark/Facebook)

Charlie Clark, a dogged chronicler of local life in Arlington, has died at the age of 70.

He was known locally as the author of “Our Man in Arlington,” a weekly column in the Falls Church News-Press, and as the author of several books on local history.

His quickly declining health came as a surprise. Last month, Clark published his most recent book, the “Life and Times of the Falls Church News-Press,” documenting the paper’s role in reporting on development clashes, school quality fights, political races and scandals.

He also interviewed philanthropist David Rubenstein at the Arlington Historical Society banquet about his donations to local historical exhibits, including Arlington House, the domicile of a descendent of George Washington as well as Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.

Shortly after, the local writer was hospitalized and diagnosed with a rare neurological condition, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. He passed away at home while receiving hospice care; a memorial for him will be announced at a later date, according to his obituary.

Clark had a 50-year journalism career that began at Yorktown High School’s newspaper, The Sentry. After landing a job with Time-Life Books in Alexandria, he went on to work as a reporter or editor for The Washington Post, Congressional Quarterly and National Journal, among other outlets. He retired as a senior correspondent at Atlantic Media’s Government Executive Media Group in 2019.

The retired journalist was a prolific local historian and a board member and volunteer for the Arlington Historical Society.

He has published three books on Arlington County history — “Arlington County Chronicles,” “Hidden History of Arlington County” and “Lost Arlington County” — as well as the first full biography of Arlington House’s first resident, George Washington Parke Custis, who he called the under-sung “child of Mount Vernon.”

Clark, a native of Arlington who grew up in the Rivercrest and Cherrydale neighborhoods, had a long memory of how the county once looked. His columns often included vignettes describing its changes, from renamed schools, to larger homes, to local landmarks that have come and gone.

In one recent column, Clark took a pensive turn, reflecting on the youthful injuries he and his schoolmates suffered, after watching his grandkids accumulate scrapes, bruises and broken bones.

His conclusion makes a fitting farewell to his survivors: his wife, Ellen, daughters Elizabeth McKenzie and Susannah Matt, his grandchildren, Caroline and James McKenzie, and his siblings, Thomas Clark and Martha Franks.

“So what is the deep and wise message I bequeath to my grandchildren?” he wrote. “As you struggle through the pain, the uncertainty, the anxious stints in the waiting room — and the vital rallying of family — please know that you are undergoing an experience that, in later life, you likely will remember.”

Photo via Charlie Clark/Facebook

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