For fifteen years I only knew Mike Cleary for fifteen minutes at a time, not nearly enough looking back on it now that Mr. Clearly has gone away. While he knew me, I don’t think I ever really knew him. It wasn’t until his obituary over the New Year’s weekend that I realized the breadth of his influence, the depth of his vision, and the height of his popularity.
He recognized my face each June, whether we would shake hands in Florida, California, Texas or any of the other stops of the NACDA and affiliates convention. He was the founder of the college athletic directors’ association that would spawn more than a dozen other professional organizations. He was a stalwart in the world of sports administration. He was an agent of change wherever he worked throughout his 81 years of life.
In walking the lobbies and corridors of the NACMA conventions since 2000, I would pass by Mr. Cleary and offer a “hello.” Once when my wife and I were planning a trip to Ireland, he took fifteen minutes to talk with me by phone to help guide our planning to a land that captivated him and that he would visit yearly. Still, I never really knew him.
In the moments I would watch him, Mr. Cleary never turned away a friend or a stranger. His eyes sparkled from behind his auburn tinted glasses. His wide smile would shine when running into an old colleague. His stride was one of confidence, but full of humility.
What it must have been like to share a meal with Mr. Cleary; to sit and talk about the state of college athletics or the new frontiers being forged by the younger generation. How his words must have flowed into the ears, hearts, and minds of those lucky enough to gather around him.
On a December night in 2011, while I served as the Duke public address announcer at Cameron Indoor Stadium, Blue Devil Athletic Director, Kevin White, paid tribute to Mr. Cleary during a media timeout. The script was short, the applause was loud, and the moment was made special by Mr. Cleary’s wave in appreciation. Once again, I had a moment to say “hello.”
I am sad that I will no longer have an opportunity to shake his hand. Yet, I am happy for those who had the chance to spend more than fifteen minutes at a time with Mike Cleary; a man, it seems, who made the most of his time here – and made the most for others.