Peter Clarke’s legacy will live on in Summit County rugby community after tragic fall
Blue Goose rugby patriarch died in fall on Mount Sneffels
FRISCO — To friend and teammate Russel Backhouse, Peter Clarke was the man who helped make it all work. Clarke was a leading patriarch for the Breckenridge-based Gentlemen of the Blue Goose Rugby Club and the local rugby community.
“He wore many hats, but he was kind of the glue for the whole team for a decade,” Backhouse said. “He was a guy who brought everybody together. He would organize things, and he always saw the best in any situation. He was never negative. A lot of people looked up to what he did and who he was.”
Summit County lost the 54-year-old Clarke, a philanthropic champion of the area’s rugby community, on July 2 in a climbing fall on Mount Sneffels near Ouray. Clarke, a native of Coventry, England, played and coached for the Blue Goose men’s club for years and started up a high school-aged club for local boys in the past decade.
Whether it was with his fellow Blue Goose or coaching local youth, Clarke took a paternal approach to cultivating the sport in Summit.
“He kept the club going at a time when clubs around the state were waning,” Backhouse said. “He saw value in being part of the team and being part of something bigger than yourself.”
Clarke’s wife, Joanne, said he enjoyed the sport of rugby itself as much as he loved how the sport brought people together. That dated back all the way to his time as a young man in Germany. After a very modest upbringing in the midlands of England, Clarke took his love for the sport with him to Germany.
As a young man in his 20s, Clarke spent time in Germany working on the technological software of satellites for the European Space Agency. His spaceflight career ultimately led him to similar spaceflight work in the United States and, in the early 2000s, Breckenridge.
When Backhouse met Clarke two decades ago, he soon realized he was a teammate and man who would always keep his word and follow through on what he said he would do.
Backhouse said Clarke was always adept at figuring out solutions for the Blue Goose, which the friend and rugby teammate attributed to his humble journey.
“He left high school at 16 and started this apprenticeship to be an engineer and he went on to do very well for himself,” Backhouse said.
Bobby Craig of the Blue Goose said Clarke was a player on the pitch who had the skills to play anything and was well versed in the nuances of the game.
“Even after I stopped playing and he stopped playing, he’d still show up, and I guess the question was who else was going to show up, because Pete would always show up,” Craig said.
As a coach, Craig said Clarke had a positive attitude, was a pleasure to be around and emphasized the importance of creating a team of players who could lead themselves.
“And that’s a philosophy that you go through life with — it’s not to follow others, but to lead yourself,” Craig said.
With the Blue Goose and eventually the Summit boys team, Clarke — as both a player and coach — instilled a standard of commitment as not only a teammate, but member of the rugby community. Clarke was a classic, gentlemanly club rugby player in the sense he promoted the fraternity that is the sport — the kind of tribe where the home team buys the visitors food and beers after knocking the snot out of each other on the pitch.
To Clarke, it was more important to give 100% on the field than to be supremely talented on the pitch. Off the pitch, a teammate should be eager to fundraise and help set up the logistics of the matches and surrounding festivities.
Clarke eventually coached the high school team to strong seasons in 2016 and 2017, and helped some players from similar modest backgrounds earn college scholarships.
“Lads on the high school team who probably wouldn’t have gone to college otherwise,” Backhouse said. “Rugby has a way of doing that.”
Clarke is survived by his daughter, Devon, and Joanne, a native of Solihull, England — only 40 minutes from Coventry — who he met in Breckenridge just over a decade ago.
Joanne said it meant a lot to Clarke to keep the Blue Goose alive despite waning numbers in recent years. He made it a point to recruit college players to train and play each summer in Breckenridge, a few who have chosen to live in Summit and remain with the club.
Joanne said she also saw daily how much time Clarke poured into the high school team, which was revived this past spring post COVID-19 by new head coach Lance French.
“Pete cared so much about it,” Joanne said. “He put in so many hours. Recreating what he was a part of at that age meant a lot to him because he knew how much it changed his life.”
Joanne said a celebration of life for Clarke is planned for later this year, with a date and location to be determined. She added donations in memory of him can be made to Ouray Mountain Rescue.
Craig said Summit Rugby will host its annual golf tournament, scheduled for Sept. 16 at Breckenridge Golf Club, in honor of Clarke.
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Trailing to Aspen early in Sunday’s championship, the American Raptors came back to lead 24-15 at halftime and held a two score lead well into the second half before the Gents took over the match. This was the Gents’ 22nd championship at Ruggerfest, a tournament that dates to 1968.