“Shirtless Jack” Clinton McGovern
Around election time in the United States, people would tell him, “I know whom you are voting for!” Though Jack could not vote in 1960, he canvassed for his namesake, Jack Kennedy. Twelve years later, he supported a cousin, George McGovern. And he voted in 1992 and 1996 for a third namesake —Bill Clinton. No one could call Jack a democrat in name only. He was also a lifelong Cubs and Red Sox fan, despite hailing from San Diego.
Jack Clinton McGovern, 64, beloved teacher and movie lore expert, has lost his battle with cancer. The Tarzan novel he was writing remains unfinished.
During his 20 years in Panajachel, Jack was respected by expats of every ideological bent and by uncounted Guatemalans, many of whom studied under him at LIFE School. He had a crusty, and, in his early years in Guatemala, underclad exterior. But all who knew him even casually knew he was kind, though nonplussed by his kindness. He grew gardenias and regaled students’ mothers with them.
Jack had taught abroad in places like Chile and Sweden. While still employed at Guatemala City’s American school, expat Jennifer Martin cornered him in Chalo’s grocery and hired him as the first teacher at LIFE, which Martin had just chartered. He was the only person available with proper teaching credentials, if not proper attire.
“He was ‘Shirtless Jack’ back then,” Martin notes. “All he wore was shorts.” As a new staffer at LIFE, he added T-shirts and flip-flops to his attire.
“I had the unique honor of having Jack teach all four of my kids,” Martin adds. “He was the most inspirational teacher. All my kids felt the same. He really taught them things that served them in their lives. Peace, Jack!”
“Jack was my true mentor in Panajachel,” says LIFE principal George Nippo. “I arrived fresh from college to teach at LIFE. He took me under his wing and taught me the ropes.”
“The world is sadder without him.” says friend Gary Hagan. “I’m sure he’s still cheering the Cubbies.”
In 1979, on the beautiful Indonesian island Bali, I met Jack at the losmen where I had been staying a couple of month´s. I was a 23 year old backpacker from Sweden and my friendly American menthor was 35 and extremly skilled in the field of “enjoying life while doing nothing”.
The evening we started communicating he asked “Why do you write a diary?”. “In the future it can be interesting to read what I did”, I replyed. “So, what have you done today my swedish friend?”, he asked. That day in the diary contained only one sentence and it declared I had been to the post office mailing letters to family and friends in Sweden. “Sounds like a busy day. Boy, if that´s worth writing about you must be relaxed”, Jack said.
We had three fantastic weeks together. We fully explored the island and than Jack headed north towards Thailand and I was on my way to Australia. I cried when we broke up and, probably to make me feel better, he gave me a blue t-shirt from the Brandywine Restaurant in Colorado skiresort Steamboat Springs and said:
– If you ever go to America and becomes short of money, make sure to visit Steamboat Springs. Appear at Brandywine wearing this shirt and send them regards from Jack McGovern – and you will be hired.
At the time I had no plans to visit USA, but destiny brought me there and six month later I hitchhiked from Los Angeles to Steamboat Springs. I went to the Brandywine restaurant and did what Jack had told me, but the beautiful formula did not work. Fortunately, I was also carrying the important Jack-attitude “No worries!” so I walked down through main street, saw a sign “dishwasher wanted” at another restaurant, applied and was hired. A month later Jack M showed up in Steamboat and he later follwed me to my small hometown Solleftea in northern Sweden where he stayed more than one year. He worked as a teacher (english and spanish), chief and i little of everything, including helping my parents to build their present home. Jack had many odd habbits and one of them was to collect lables from beer bottles all of the world. He fully enjoyed the liquid and than put the bottles into water, pulled off the swedish lables and sent them to a kid in Australia that collected beer lables. To me, that was Jack McGovern.
Together with my wife I in early 1987 spent a couple of fantastic weeks at Jack´s temporary home in Steamboat. That was during the relativly short period while Jack was married and was gonna start a new and more mature life style. Since our dauhter was born nine months later he always reminded me that she was part American. Jack and I lost track for several years, but in 2001 – while our family lived in Mississippi, we had a long phonecall and planned for a reunion in Panajachel.
I wish we had. To me, Jack McGovern was ,still is and always will be the best. Jack, thank´s for everything!