On Saturday, we got the news that Ben Blair’s earliest friend, Christopher Clark, had died. Chris was an award-winning director, loving husband, father of five terrific kids, dedicated Anglophile, Shakespeare expert, concert pianist, Finnish-speaking, all around super-talented guy.
He was diagnosed with ALS almost five years ago, so his death wasn’t all that surprising, but at the same time has felt like a great shock. Chris has been so upbeat, positive, and hopeful throughout the steady decline of the last years — the loss of his legs and feet, then his arms and hands, his ability to speak, his ability to swallow — that I had started to think he was destined to be an ALS outlier. That he would live for another decade or more. That he would talk in his computer voice, and keep taking on theater projects, maybe write a book, continue leaving hilarious 5-star google reviews for random businesses.
I met Chris the same night I met Ben Blair. I was 20 years old. It was at a Bean Society Meeting. They were seated at a piano — Chris played and they sang a duet they had written: Beans on Valentine’s Day. They would later perform it at our wedding reception.
Chris married Lisa Valentine a few months before Ben and I married. We were all attending BYU. My memories of early adulthood and early marriage overlap with memories of Chris and Lisa. We had our first babies within a few months of each other. Made plans for graduate school. Worked on house projects. Tried to figure out what we wanted to be when we grew up.
Chris and Ben are Provo natives and grew up around the block from one another. During our first few years of our marriage, when we were living in Provo, I ended up getting to know Chris’s parents and some of his siblings. I worked with his mom, Cindy, at church, teaching the teenage girls in our congregation and hosting activities for them. I remember meeting his then teenage sisters, Stephanie and Courtney, and a decade later, both of them spent a week writing Guest Mom posts here on Design Mom during the original blogging boom.
Chris and Lisa would host big parties at the Clark family cabin in Wahlsberg where I got to see the Clark family siblings shine. I come from a big family too, and their interactions and family dramas were familiar to me and mirrored my own family dramas. When Ben Blair talked about his childhood, it was always clear what an impact the larger-than-life Clark family had played in his life. Chris was a dear childhood friend. Ben and Chris were creative collaborators, constantly making movies, or coming up with projects, and making each other laugh.
I ended up finding a kindred spirit in Chris’s wife, Lisa. That doesn’t always happen. We don’t always like the friends of our spouse, and even if we do, we don’t always like the spouses of those friends. But I got really lucky. Lisa and I have a ton in common and I’ve ended up getting to know Lisa’s family too. I worked with Lisa’s older brother (also named Chris) on a textbook for an art professor, and got to know Lisa’s sister Gina when Lisa and I put on an Art Market. I got to meet Lisa’s younger brother James, a now world-famous guitarist, when he played a living room concert with Chris — he was on his way to L.A. where he hoped to make it big (and did make it big!). When I think of peers who I really respect and look to as a model, Lisa always comes to mind.
After college, we ended up living far away from Chris & Lisa, but would connect the way long-time friends connect whenever they are in the same town. I was grateful for social media. I could read Chris’s diaries from London, and Lisa’s thoughts on parenting. I could cheer as Chris established his career, and Lisa’s talent was shown to millions in the Chatbooks commercial.
Lately, my primary communication with Chris was through Instagram DMs. We shared nostalgic memories that were spurred on by his posts or mine. The other day I posted a story with music from The Man from Snowy River. I knew Chris would respond and he did. (That movie was very popular among Mormons and any piano-playing Mormon kid worth their salt could play those chords.)
I’m mourning for my husband today. Chris is his earliest and longest-lasting friendship. Chris was a consistent influence for good in Ben’s life, and Ben always imagined he would get to be an old man with Chris. I’m mourning for Chris’s parents, and his siblings — I feel like they’ve been asked to deal with more than their fair share of crummy stuff. I’m mourning for Lisa’s siblings, who have lost a dear friend and advocate. I’m mourning for Josh Bingham. You know Josh because he edits the Living With Kids home tours here on Design Mom. Chris was Josh’s best friend and of course Josh’s heart is broken.
I’m mourning for his five children. The youngest just finished elementary school. It is hard to lose a parent. My father was five years older than Chris when he died (Chris is 47, my father was 52). It was hard then, and is still hard now, to want advice or feedback from him and not be able to get it.
I think most of all I’m mourning for Lisa. What an honor it was to see Chris & Lisa build a truly beautiful life together. Twenty-five years of committed marriage. What an exceptional team they made.
And I’m mad about the the timing of all of this. Chris established the theater department at Utah Valley University. He was hugely influential in the community and he is beloved. There should be a massive Mormon funeral to celebrate Chris’s life. But currently gatherings in Utah are supposed to be kept to under a hundred people. That might sound like a lot, but if you combine just Chris & Lisa’s immediate family members it’s well over a hundred.
Mormon funerals are often quite wonderful. They are like massive, brief, family reunions. Very celebratory. Emotional and heart-breaking, but also truly hopeful and beautiful. One of the core Mormon beliefs is that relationships can last forever; that we’ll be reunited after death with family and friends; that there is a very thin veil between this life and the next life, and that those who have gone before us, are just on the other side of that veil, cheering us on and supporting us in ways we may not understand.
I don’t know what sort of memorial or funeral will be planned for Chris, but it’s an additional blow that it can’t be what it might have been pre-covid19. I’m grieving for all the people who have lost loved ones during this pandemic and who haven’t been able to mourn the way they wanted to or needed to.
Ben Blair wrote an Instagram post about Chris and said: I’m completely heartbroken for this family. Lisa has endured a devastating chapter with unfathomable grace. Their response to the initial diagnosis, and years on a path that only ever got worse, will forever be my example of how to respond to horror.
Ben is absolutely right. I’ve never seen anything like it. Chris & Lisa learned very quickly what they would be facing with this diagnosis, and they never wavered in approaching each day with arms wide open, pouring love out into the world.
Josh wrote: If anyone deserves to live to be an old man, it was Chris. He would have been the best 90 yr old man. I fully agree. Chris’s life was cut too short. And the world was robbed of the joy of seeing Chris grow old.
We are mourning deeply at the Blair house right now. Mourning for Chris, and mourning for all who love him who are in pain.
P.S. — Chris makes appearances in lots of movies, but his starring role in Stalking Santa might be my favorite. You can see Lisa in Show Offs, Random Acts, Pretty Darn Funny, that amazing viral Chatbooks commercial, and listen to her radio show.
27 thoughts on “Christopher Clark”
I am so sorry for this great loss, especially at a time when you can’t gather to honor his life and mourn together and comfort each other.
I am so sorry. We don’t know each other, but I’m a reader of your blog and I will think about your friend today and your loss.
One of your many readers who is thinking of you and your friends…. I hope you can feel the web of love!
I’ve read about Topher for a few years and wow, what a loss. ALS is such a terrible disease. My heart goes out to Topher’s family and friends.
I am so sorry for you and your family’s loss. One of my husband’s best friends also has advanced ALS. All that you said is so familiar. We don’t know how much time he has left as he is limited to just being able to move his eyes. When we loose him it will be devastating even though, as you said, it will not necessarily be a surprise. Take care!
I went to high school with the Valentines. My heart breaks for this enormous loss.
Thank you so much for this beautiful tribute. He loves you both so much. I’m so grateful for our lasting friendship!
Sending you and your family my sympathy and love,
I’m so sorry, Gabby and Ben.
I am so sorry for your loss.
Heartbreaking loss, and I never met him. Just followed along from The Jolly Porter days. Beautiful tribute.
I love Chris. I’m one of the lucky actors who got to work in his shows and develop a friendship with him. He was an incredible director- smart, respectful, caring, insightful- and an even more incredible friend. I also communicated with him over Instagram messages quite a bit this last year, and I’m so grateful for the insights and encouragement he shared. He was one of a kind and I will miss him. Sending love to you and Ben as you mourn Chris at this time.
One of my friends lost her husband at 47 to ALS. He had been one of the stars of the football team at my high school, a few years older than me, and I remember meeting him years later as her husband and thinking that unlike a lot of former football players, he had really aged well. He had become an avid cyclist, so he now just looked lean like a cyclist usually does. She told me a few months later that he had ALS. He always had a great smile and amazing attitude, as did she. But this was a few years ago— the church was packed, and the family had all that support. I’m a doctor, and I missed half the service running outside to help with teenagers— his son’s friends— who had fainted from standing with locked knees at the packed service in a church that had inadequate air-conditioning. I’m so sorry that you and his family are going through this right now of all times. Take care.
condolences to you, your family, and your friends. it is horrible to lose loved ones anytime, but right is especially difficult. you have had the gift of knowing and loving extraordinary people in your lifetime.
I’m so sorry for your loss. It’s so clear from all the people who love him what an amazing man he was. Thank you for sharing this tribute with us.
I am so sorry for your loss. Chris sounds like an amazing man and his ALS diagnosis hits close to home. My grad school advisor who is more like a big brother to me, and Uncle Stephan to my kids, is battling a MND right now. He’s determined to be an outlier as well.
Gabby thanks for writing this. It’s been a weird weekend and I’ve been pretty numb today but this brought the walls down. I loved hearing Chris tells stories about Ben as a kid. I remember that first Art Market. It’s amazing how our lives keep overlapping. Losing Chris makes the world a little less bright. He was one of a kind.
Thank you for writing this beautiful tribute to a lifelong friendship. I’m so moved. I have followed several of you for years on social media (I am close to your age, was at BYU at the same time, married while there, and have 5 kids of similar ages), so I feel connected in a way. And as faint as the connection is, I still feel the grief of it all. I will be praying God’s comfort will be with all who knew him deeply and are mourning him up close.
My father in law died of this cruel disease. I am thnking of you and especially of Lisa and her children at this sad time.
Beautifully written tribute to an amazing man. Thinking of you, and of course Lisa and her family.
I am so sorry for your loss; I appreciate you pouring out your love for his life here.
We lost my grandfather to ALS in December. It was painful to see such an energetic, enigmatic man lose to ALS the way he did. And it was heartbreaking to watch my Dad lose his in that way. I know that pain you’re feeling for the loss of his life and what’s its like to grieve for the others in their life. Praying that Chris’ light, and that of my grandfather, live on.
I am so sorry for you loss.
This is off topic, but can I ask what The Bean Society is?
I am so sorry for your loss. My condolences to you, Ben, Josh, and Chris’ family and friends. What a hard time for this to happen.
I am so sorry for your loss. He sounded like a beautiful man.
I am so heartbroken for you and your family- losing such a beloved friend, especially during a horrible time to try to gather, mourn, and celebrate with family and friends. Hugs and love to you…Jill
I’m so very sorry for your loss, and especially for Ben. I only knew Christopher through Instagram but his light shined through like the sun and it was very apparent why he was so beloved. I hope this doesn’t sound weird, but my dog of almost 15 years, Teddy, also died last Friday, June 5. When I learned that they shared this date I felt some comfort and whispered to my boy, “don’t worry Teddy, there’s some really good people coming with you.”
I am so sorry for your loss. I follow Chris and Lisa on social media and they are so wonderful. It sounds like you have the most amazing memories. Sending my prayers to everyone mourning right now.