Boston Magazine once called WCVB’s Clark Booth “the most literate man in the field,” and though the accolade was for 1981’s best TV sportscaster, he could easily have vied for MVP honors outside of sports journalism — and beyond broadcasting, too.
He wrote columns for print publications during most of his on-air tenure, and kept doing so after setting aside his microphone for the last time. Not for him the sports clichés that were as dull and worn as last year’s cleats. Mr. Booth might quote the novelist Henry James while colleagues made do with baseball statistician Bill James.
Consider his take on Boston fans, which appeared in columns he wrote last year for the Dorchester Reporter and for The Pilot, the Archdiocese of Boston’s newspaper:
“Rome at its zenith was hardly more grasping in its lust for glory than Patriots Nation nor were the Lords of London when they ruled the waves more haughty than Red Sox Nation on its high horse,” he wrote. “At frothing Fenway it’s almost as if those 85 seasons wandering the wilderness never existed.”
Mr. Booth, who widely roamed Boston’s sports, news, and features landscapes for 55 years, died Friday in his New Smyrna Beach, Fla., home of idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, a lung disease. He was 79 and had lived in Reading for 30 years before retiring to Florida in 1999 with his wife, Anne.
He covered Super Bowls and Stanley Cup playoffs, the elections of presidents and the selections of popes. One assignment took him to Normandy, France, for the 40th anniversary of the D-Day invasion. His other topics included the fall of the Iron Curtain and the Troubles in Northern Ireland.
Mr. Booth spent a decade with WBZ-TV, Channel 4, from the mid-1960s to the mid-’70s, but was best known for his subsequent 25 years at WCVB-TV, Channel 5, where he became the station’s first special correspondent. He began the newspaper part of his career at The Patriot Ledger in Quincy, and later wrote decades of columns for the Pilot and the Dorchester Reporter, filing a final dispatch for the beginning of this year.
Yet wide as Mr. Booth ranged geographically and intellectually as a broadcaster and writer, one topic held little interest: himself. Most obituaries of Mr. Booth, including this one, feature a blurry screenshot from his TV days or no photo at all. That’s the way it always was for a broadcaster who “eschews the show business element to TV news so much that he has never allowed his station or this newspaper to take a publicity photograph,” Globe sports TV columnist Jack Craig noted in 1975.
“He alone, among all of us, chose to avoid being on camera as much as possible,” said Globe sports columnist Bob Ryan. “Most of us lived for that moment of visibility, but Clark was mainly voice-only.”
Ryan added that Mr. Booth “was better than all of us. He was the man, whether it was religion, politics, or sports.”
Mike Lynch, WCVB’s sports anchor, said Mr. Booth “was more than a colleague. He was a mentor. My appreciation for him grew every day. He helped teach me to tell a story in the most efficient way, and nobody before, during, or after Clark’s tenure told a story better.”
Though Mr. Booth reported from the World Series a dozen years, and covered three Super Bowls, hockey was his favorite sport, and he was there for 20 Stanley Cup playoffs.
“I liked working with Clark. He was very inquisitive and I could really have an in-depth conversation with him,” said Harry Sinden, a former Boston Bruins coach, general manager, and president.
“He was one of my dearest friends and one of the great and genuine people I met in Boston sports,” said Nate Greenberg, a former vice president of media relations for the Bruins. “Clark was the gold standard for reporting — as well-rounded a reporter as anyone I knew.”
‘It was a full life and it went by fast. All things considered it was a very good ride.’
One of five siblings, Clark Vincent Booth was a son of Russell Booth and the former Trudie Elmore, and was born in Boston at the end of the Great Depression. “They were hardscrabble times, yet remarkably inspirational,” he recalled in an obituary he prepared himself.
As he grew up, he lived in Boston, Arlington, Norwell, and Weymouth, where he graduated from high school in 1956. At the College of the Holy Cross, from which he received a bachelor’s degree in 1961, he majored in English and minored in history and philosophy — “not exactly a formation many might deem practical, but ideal for a budding journalist back then,” he wrote.
After basic training in the Army, which he served in the reserves for six years, he began working at the Patriot Ledger in 1962 and jumped to WBZ three years later. He joined WCVB in 1975.
In his TV years, he moderated “In Good Faith,” a weekly public affairs program that wove together religion and current events. He also was chief writer for a Boston College TV documentary team that produced shows about conflict resolution in places such as South Africa, the Balkans, and the Soviet Union.
In 1963, he met Anne Marion Cowlin, a nurse, “on an enchanted evening,” he wrote, and the rest was “sweet destiny.” They married in 1966.
They traveled widely, he wrote, and had “walked Washington on an historic day, floated down the Seine on a summer night, lumbered the high ground of Thailand on the back of an elephant, walked the Great Wall of China, annually did Tanglewood, reveled in Dvorak in glorious Prague, and never once missed ‘Masterpiece Theatre.’ Who could ask for anything more?”
In the obituary he prepared, Mr. Booth wrote that “it was a full life and it went by fast,” and added: “All things considered it was a very good ride.”
A service will be announced for Mr. Booth, who in addition to his wife leaves two sons, Scott of New York City and Matthew of Lithia, Fla.; a daughter, Tracy Husbands of New Smyrna Beach, Fla.; three sisters, Jacquelyn Splaine of Manchester-by-the-Sea, Roberta Fuller of Centerville, and Cheryl Kirkman of Boston; and five grandchildren.
Over the years, writers found ways to praise what set Mr. Booth apart in the media scene. For one of a handful of Best of Boston honors, Boston Magazine called Mr. Booth “knowledgeable and articulate.” In 1983, the Globe’s Jack Thomas dubbed him “a thinking man’s sports reporter.”
Mr. Booth tailored his respected writing to the medium at hand. Some sentences were best read in print, others better spoken on air. Neither was by nature better than the other.
“Comparing a newspaper to TV is like comparing a novel to a short story,” he told the Globe in 1980. “But writing for television is an art in itself, requiring tightness and brevity in making your point.”
Though he spent 35 years in front of cameras for WBZ and WCVB, Mr. Booth was more comfortable behind the pen, and if anything seemed wary of TV’s unblinking eye.
“There is something so Hollywoodish about the TV newsroom studio,” he said in the 1980 Globe interview. “It’s never-never land with all of those strong lights and big cameras. It’s scary, difficult to be yourself.”Bryan Marquard
can be reached at email@example.com.