By JOHN P. EVANS III
Former Denton mayor and councilman Robert L. Clendaniel passed away on June 22 at age 61, leaving behind many family members and friends who had great love and respect for a man who touched their lives.
Clendaniel was known in his hometown of Denton and in Caroline County for his passion for politics and as a public servant who always held the interests of his constituents as the number one determination when he made decisions as a council member. Many of those who knew Clendaniel saw him as a lifetime friend who they would dearly miss.
One of his closest friends in his personal life and on the town council was Conway Gregory, who knew Clendaniel for more than 35 years.
“I knew Robert primarily through my association with him on the Denton Town Council, through the Caroline County Republican Party and when we ran into each other on the street. I considered him one of my best friends,” said Gregory.
“We were politically in harmony with each other so we rarely disagreed on an issue,” added Gregory. “One of Robert’s greatest attributes was that he was able to agree to disagree and therefore he never let a council vote come between our friendship.”
“I found him to be a person with a strong intellect, reason and compassion,” he said. “He was respected by his peers and he possessed the rare and inestimable qualities of common sense and good judgment.”
Gregory said those traits served Clendaniel well during his 10 years on the town council. Clendaniel also served as mayor of the town in 2011. He was elected to the council twice and served as vice mayor on two other occasions.
”Robert was always out to protect his constituents’ pocket books. He never voted for a tax increase,” said Gregory. “Philosophically, he just could not do it unless there was no other way. At the same time, he understood that every council member had the right to vote the way they did.”
Clendaniel stepped down from the council in January of this year due to health reasons.
Gregory said he was always impressed with Clendaniel’s ability to find a compromise when needed and his steadfastness when it came to the welfare of the town’s citizens.
“On the town council, Robert was always willing to compromise on any issue if he thought it was the right thing to do,” said Gregory. “Though compromise today may be a dirty word in politics and seen as a sign of weakness, it wasn’t so with Robert because he understood the propensities, vices and interests of his political opponents.
“He valued their positions and the principles which they clung to in the political arena. For him, resolution by acceptable compromise that benefitted the public good was always his modus operandi,” added Gregory.
Gregory said he never once saw Clendaniel act out in retribution for an action or opinion against his own.
“The greatest compliment I can give him is his absence of malice. Holding a grudge was simply not in his nature,” said Gregory.
Clendaniel was born in Seaford in 1955 and graduated from North Caroline High School in 1973. He lived in Denton nearly all his life and was the owner and operator of Business Internet Systems LLC in Denton.
As a boy and as an adult, he had a fan’s interest in Star Trek, one he shared with Gregory, but he found his greatest interest in politics.
It was in the political realm that he met another of his close friends, Joanne Smith. He served with Smith on the Caroline County Republican Party’s Central Committee.
“He was very dedicated (to the party) and very much involved in party politics” said Smith, though he never showed an interest in running for office above the town council level.
Smith met Clendaniel in 1996 when he first showed interest in running for a position on the central committee. At the time, she was chairman of the county’s Republican Central Committee.
“He worked very hard at, and was very much involved in and responsible for, making Caroline County a Republican county,’’ said Smith. “I know when it came to partisan politics, that was one of his happiest accomplishments, along with getting a Republican elected to every office in the county.”
Smith said that even as his health began to decline, Clendaniel remained involved. “He would help whenever and wherever he could,” she said. “To such a point that even at Summerfest last August, after his health had declined, he worked in the Republican (Central Committee) booth. He loved to greet people and talk politics.”
Smith and Gregory both spoke of Clendanial’s wry and subtle sense of humor.
“It was such that you knew if you were around him for long enough, you were eventually going to chuckle at something he would say,” said Smith.
Smith said he was also very much interested in the politics in Canada and Great Britain. “He knew a lot about what was going on in those countries. He always felt that what happened in Canada and the UK had an effect on what went on in United States politics.”
Gregory offered that those who considered Clendaniel a good friend, and there were many, would celebrate his life “knowing he touched each one of us in both large and small ways that have made us better people”. “We are left behind to mourn a great man,” added Gregory.
Smith said she will remember Clendaniel as “a very nice man and a delightful person.” “He was gone too soon,” she added, echoing the sentiments of many.
Further speaking of how he will remember his friend, Gregory referred to the comments made by the Episcopal priest presiding over the funeral. “If there is a Heaven, and we all believe that there is, and if there is a small town in Heaven like Denton, he’s probably already become involved in its politics.”