October 27 is “National Mentoring Day,” one of those unofficial acknowledgements that fall on the calendar. While the day isn’t like Easter, Christmas or Thanksgiving, Mentoring Day is, nonetheless, a significant occasion to reflect on.

For who has not had someone play the mentor’s role in their lives?

He (or she) might be a teacher, a coach or a boss; mentors come from all sorts of occupations. I’m never shocked when I hear a person wax poetically about his mentor.

Of course, I know some folks have a handful of them, people who steered their careers and their lives in meaningful and fruitful directions. I’ve never believed, however, a person could have more than two or three, but if you have one who has you’re your unwavering counsellor, you’ve been beyond blessed.

In my life, I have had one — and just one: Dr. John Clarke. He will remain attached to me as long as I live.

Unfortunately, Dr. Clarke isn’t around to read a word of this tribute. He died six years ago when I was teaching journalism at Ohio University. His son-in-law, whom I never met, emailed me and let me know about his father-in-law’s passing. The son-in-law also told me he read during the funeral an essay, which I’d written years earlier, about his father-in-law.

I was pleased he did. Yet I felt sadness I hadn’t known of Dr. Clarke’s illness or his death earlier. I would have moved the earth to get to Pennsylvania to pay my final respects. My mentor deserved at least that much from me.  

I can’t go back and undo what I didn’t do. Yesterday is gone, and I’m never going to get yesterday back.

Often, I’ve thought about what Dr. Clarke gave me. Selflessly, he lent me a helping hand in college even before I’d taken a class from him. He heard from a TA that I was on my last dollars, so he used his influence inside the J-school to get me over this financial hurdle.

Two quarters later, he came bearing a reporting internship, which sent me to The Atlanta Constitution for the summer. I learned so much on that internship, although it wasn’t one I necessarily excelled at. I hated Atlanta and its humidity; I loathed the Deep South of the late 1970s even more.

Atlanta might have prided itself on being a city “too busy to hate,” but it wasn’t a welcoming newsroom for a Northerner.

Still, I was thankful for what doors The Constitution opened for my career, and those doors were there because of Dr. Clarke.

In life, the man mentored scores of Ohio State students, and I’m glad I was among them. I’ve tried to use what Dr. Clarke did for me as a template for how I, when the chances arose, mentored those whose paths crossed mine.

I could spend the rest of my living years thanking Dr. Clarke and still not fully repay him for what he did for me. He asked nothing in return — nothing.

Each Christmas he and I’d exchange Hallmark cards or, later, email greetings; each Christmas I’d refresh the memories of his role in my life, because I couldn’t possibly forget it.

Today, the only way I can properly thank Dr. Clarke to tell everybody that I remember him.