By Chris Sheldon, NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
Joe Louis Clark, the former bat-wielding principal of Paterson’s Eastside High School whose strict disciplinary methods inspired the 1989 film “Lean On Me,” died Tuesday at the age of 82, his family said.
Clark, a longtime resident of South Orange, retired to Gainesville, Florida, died surrounded by his family at his home after a long battle with an illness, they said.
“First serving as a Paterson grade school teacher and the Director of Camps and Playgrounds in Essex County, Clark soon found his calling in administration as Principal of PS 6 Grammar School,” his family said in a release. “Under Clark’s command, the once failing school was transformed into the ‘Miracle of Carroll Street’.”
“Committed to the pursuit of excellence, Clark greeted the challenges presented to him following his appointment as the principal of crime and drug-ridden Eastside High School with eager optimism,” the release stated. “In one day, he expelled 300 students for fighting, vandalism, abusing teachers, and drug possession and lifted the expectations of those that remained, continually challenging them to perform better. Roaming the hallways with a bullhorn and a baseball bat, Clark’s unorthodox methods won him both admirers and critics nationwide.”
To Mr. Joe Clark – Farewell and fly high! Thank you for planting the seed of education in so many! “We sink, we swim, we rise, we fall – We meet our fate together.” – Mr. Clark 🙏🏻 pic.twitter.com/cui0juj5IP
— Lindsay Sharp (@LPSharpEdu) December 30, 2020
Clark’s tough actions prompted some supporters to call him “Batman,” and also prompted President Ronald Reagan to offer him a White House policy advisor position.
RIP Joe Clark.
2020 has taken another hero of mine. pic.twitter.com/26ZsxDfgKC
— Ato Boldon (@AtoBoldon) December 30, 2020
RIP to former principal of Eastside High in Paterson, NJ .. Joe Clark. Clark was the subject of the 1989 film Lean on Me, starring Morgan Freeman. He was known in the 1980s for his unconventional and controversial disciplinary measures as the principal of Eastside High. pic.twitter.com/oTmSu0c8bI
— Ave (@SebastianAvenue) December 30, 2020
Clark was born in Rochelle, Georgia, on May 8, 1938, and his family moved to New Jersey, settling in Newark, when he was 6 years old.
“Clark’s post-collegiate career as a U.S. Army Reserve sergeant and drill instructor engrained in him a respect for order and achievement, which came to define his more than three-decade career in education,” his family said.
This article originally appeared on NJ.com.