A Lot to Say Dave Baker (left), director of Wrightsville Beach Ocean Rescue,
A ALLISON POTTER
delivers George Clark Jr. (middle) and his son, Bill, to a ceremony
honoring George as the oldest living former Wrightsville Beach
lifeguard on July 22, 2022.
FORMER state senator, a retired attorney, still incred-ible
fisherman and an endearing person, George
Clark Jr. has a lot to say. After all, he has 94 years
of memories to share of life spent on Wrightsville
Beach and in Wilmington.
“All of my life,” he says. “We always had a home here. It wasn’t
fancy but we had it.”
He’s been in his current home since 1968. He and his late wife
Libby bought it when they moved back from Raleigh after he
served as counsel to then-Gov. Jim Holshouser. George says his
50-plus-year-old wood frame cottage in Wrightsville Beach “is
essentially a teardown” but to him it’s home. He has a multitude
of memories of life lived there.
A New Hanover High School alumnus, George also looks
back on a life filled with accomplishments. Besides his law
practice and time in the legislature, he was legislative counsel to
a North Carolina governor, and New Hanover County Board of
His roots go deep. His parents were George Sr. and Sarah.
George Sr. served in combat in the Army during World War I
alongside other multigenerational Wilmingtonians. George Sr.
came home from the war to work in insurance.
“Daddy was in the insurance business,” George Jr. says. “His
father was a conductor on the railroad, and his father was the
governor of North Carolina during the first part of the Civil
War. Henry Toole Clark. Mother was from Lumberton. When
her nine months were up, she went back to Lumberton to have
me. Horace Baker, the doctor, was a good friend of her family.
She had me in Lumberton spring of 1928 and then came right
back to Wilmington and the beach.”
George has never met a stranger. In the late afternoons he
enjoys a beautiful sunset view across Waynick Boulevard to
“That’s another thing about the beach,” he says. “People are
so congenial. They’ll stop and talk about the flowers. Sometimes
they’ll come up here and have a beer. It’s a friendly sort of situa-tion.
I enjoy it. I have a good time.”
One son and family are right next door. Another comes from
Raleigh often. Friends come and go constantly.
Ensconced in a chair on his ocean-facing deck looking over
South Lumina Avenue, George will speak to everyone who walks
by, regardless of age. (I believe that’s how he met this journalist
so long ago.)
A few years ago he met a young surfer, Grace Brookshire, the
same way. Brookshire walks to the CAMA beach access closest
to George’s cottage for surfing after parking nearby.
George invited her to come up for a visit and a friendship
formed. She, like so many of George’s friends, enjoys his stories.
“George has a million stories about Wrightsville Beach. He’ll
tell you about the time on the Fourth of July as a lifeguard and
how they saved so many people, or the story of the jetties,”
Brookshire says. “George has become like a grandfather to me;
both of my grandfathers have passed away. Relationships matter.
I have gotten so much from that relationship.”
There are very few topics that George doesn’t have a story
“Have I told you about the time I…?”
Brookshire picked up on an unspoken need for a man who has
loved the beach strand and had surf fished his entire life.
“He told me that he hadn’t been out on the beach in a long
time because of his knees. I told Dave Baker about it and Dave
Baker took the ball and ran with it,” Brookshire says.
Early on a rainy morning in July, before Baker’s elite ocean
rescue squad deployed to the strand, they picked up George at
home and brought him to the back side of the old fire station,
where they held a simple ceremony honoring George for his years
as the oldest living lifeguard at Wrightsville Beach.
“It grew really fast,” says Baker, Wrightsville Beach Ocean
Rescue (WBOR) director. “Grace approached me through
another person and it turns out the late WBOR Capt. Jeremy
Owens had told George he would take him for a ride. Then we
lost Jeremy. And I said, yeah, we’re going to make this happen.”