AUSTIN, Texas Retired state District Judge Harley Clark of Austin, a venerated Texas Ex who became a part of Longhorn lore by introducing the “Hook ’em Horns” hand sign at a University of Texas pep rally during the 1950s, died Thursday at the age of 78.
He passed away at his beloved farm near Dripping Springs, Texas, where he was able to spend the last months of his life surrounded by books, dogs, family and friends.
“Apart from Judge Clark’s role in helping establish a UT tradition, he was a longtime supporter of the university in other important ways, including contributing to our legal defense in the Hopwood case and volunteering his time. We’ll miss his good-natured presence on our campus,” said Bill Powers, president of The University of Texas at Austin.
The Hopwood v. Texas case involved the university’s use of race as one of several factors in its admissions process.
“Today, Texas Exes mourn the passing of a man who embodied the spirit of our beloved university,” said former U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, president of the Texas Exes, the university’s alumni organization. “Harley Clark introduced the Hook ’em Horns hand sign, a symbol of Longhorn pride that is recognized and shared around the globe. His love and dedication to UT Austin will never be forgotten.”
Funeral services will be held on Tuesday, Oct. 14 at 2 p.m. at The Etter-Harbin Alumni Center on campus. The center is located at 2110 San Jacinto Boulevard. The services, open to the public, will be followed by a burial at the Texas State Cemetery, located at 909 Navasota Street.
Clark earned a bachelor of arts degree from the university in 1957, a master of arts degree in 1960 and a law degree in 1962.
He became a successful trial lawyer in the 1960s and 1970s before Gov. Dolph Briscoe appointed him to be a judge for the state’s 250th Judicial District Court in 1977. His most notable decision was in the Edgewood Independent School District case in 1987. He ruled that the state’s system of financing public schools violated the Texas Constitution because of its funding disparities between property rich and property poor school districts. The decision was upheld by the Texas Supreme Court, 9-0.
After resigning from the court in 1989, Clark spent 10 years working in the Austin office of the law firm Vinson and Elkins.
He then took up gardening a 40-acre organic plot near Dripping Springs. The garden produced gourmet-quality vegetables and herbs for area restaurants.
In a 2007 interview for Texas Gardener, Clark noted a similarity between the size of the farm and the original acreage of the university, saying, “I figure if 40 acres is big enough to start a university, it’s big enough to start a farm!”
Through the years, Clark maintained close ties to The University of Texas at Austin. Since about 1998, he was a special guest nearly every year at Gone To Texas celebrations in front of the Tower. The ceremony is held the night before the first day of each fall semester to welcome new students and share the history of Longhorn traditions. Students always listened intently and responded with enthusiastic applause as they joined him in proudly waving the “Hook ’em Horns” hand sign toward the heavens.
Clark, who was the university’s head cheerleader in 1955 and student body president in 1957-58, publicly introduced the now-famous “Hook ’em Horns” hand sign at the suggestion of classmate Henry “HK” Pitts, who had noticed that, as a shadow figure, it resembled a longhorn, the university’s mascot.
The introduction came during a rally in Gregory Gym the day before the big University of Texas vs. Texas Christian University game in 1955. Clark demonstrated the sign to the crowd and declared, “This is the official hand sign of the University of Texas, to be used whenever and wherever Longhorns gather.”
Clark often related that after the rally, Arno Nowotny, the dean of student life, was very upset and asked Clark whether he was aware of what that sign might mean in another part of the world such as Sicily.
Clark said his response was, “Dean, you need to look on the bright side of things. Instead of our mascot being a longhorn, it could’ve been a unicorn.”
The day after the rally, Clark went to the football field before kickoff and saw that many of the students were flashing the hand gesture. By the end of the game, other people in the stands, nonstudents, also were doing it. A tradition was born.
Clark is survived by his wife Patti Clark; daughter Cari Clark and her husband, Mike Valigura; daughter Paige Suffredini and her husband, John Suffredini; daughter Jeneffer Allen and her husband, Cal Allen; and his youngest daughter, Teel Mayo Clark. Harley had five grandchildren: Clark Schwab, Thomas Schwab, Hannah Valigura, Abbey Allen and Sophia Suffredini.