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Hook 'Em Harley

One less hand was raised in Dallas this weekend, and we are the worse for its absence. The Honorable Judge Harley Clark, creator of the Hook 'em Horns sign, has passed away at 78.

This story starts just outside Florence, which, admittedly, is a strange place to start commemorating a Texas legend. But there I was - sitting on top of my suitcase with a dead phone, no map, and not a lick of Italian to my credit when all of the sudden an elderly Italian man popped his head out of window and began talking to me excitedly. I couldn't understand a word he was saying, but the moment he raised his hand, extending the pointer and pinky finger skyward, I was home.

The Hook 'Em sign is one of the greatest gifts ever bestowed on an institution of higher learning. It's an universal symbol of our collect spirit and goodwill. A sign so well crafted, our rivals best rebuttal is to turn it upside down.

We have Harley to thank for that.

The story is well known, but Harley always told it best. Whether addressing the incoming Freshmen at Gone To Texas, or sitting around the Tejas Club Teepee, he never seemed to tire of its telling. My favorite part always came near the end after Harley, then a Texas Cheerleader, had already introduced the new sign to the student body without running it past the school.

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."

There was no going back once the sign was loose, quickly becoming the official signature of Longhorns everywhere. Despite his popularity, Harley was quick to deflect credit for the idea to his classmate, Henry "HK" Pitts, who he says first suggested the idea for the gesture.

The Hook 'Em Horns sign might be the book on Texas tradition, but it was only the first chapter in what would be a life of service to his state and university.

After finishing law school, Harley went on to spend several decades as a successful trial lawyer, before being called to the bench for the state's 250th Judicial District Court. While there, the Honorable Judge Clark spent many years defending citizens' rights, most notably declaring the state's financing of public schools unconstitutional in the Edgewood Independent School case of 1987, a ruling that echos to this day.

Harley was also an avid gardener, whose farm in Driftwood apparently provides herbs to many local businesses. I'm just going to assume that's what makes the Salt Lick BBQ sauce taste so good. At this point would it be all that surprising?

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!"

He was a tireless activist for UT, often consulting over the years in its legal defense. His charitable donations funded several scholarships, including one that helped put my brother through college. Truly, what started with Harley went on to change the world, and there is no better compliment of anyone who passed through our halls.

Today, October 14th, is his funeral - open to the public at the Texas Alumni Center. So wherever you may be, take a moment to remember a true Longhorn Legend, and the example he left behind. The gift Harley gave us is unquantifiable. Now it's our job to keep it raised high.

Till Gabriel blows,

Hook  'em.

Quotes via UT Website