CLEMENT WOODWARD MEIGHAN, 1925-1997
It is with great regret that we observe the passing of Dr. Clement W. Meighan, on April 30th, 1997, in Danville, California. He is survived by his wife Joan, of Bend, Oregon, his daughter Maeve, of Danville, California, his younger brother Tom, of Laytonville, California, his youngest brother Don of Murphysboro, Illinois, and by hundreds of friends, colleagues, and ex-students. Friends and family of Clem Meighan are having a hard time coming to grips with the fact that he is really gone, for he was so influential in so many ways that it is hard to imagine a world without him. Clem was immensely likable, and immensely admirable. As an archaeologist, as a teacher, and, most of all, as a friend and mentor, Clem was absolutely dependable and rock-solid in his integrity. His life was an inspiration to those of us who treasure his memory.
Clement Woodward Meighan was born in St. Mary's Hospital, San Francisco, on January 21, 1925, the first of three sons of Charles and Lucille Meighan. Clem inherited his middle name from Thaddeus Woodward, his paternal great-grandfather. Woodward emigrated from Ireland to the United States after the potato famine and became a man of letters and a successful playwright to the New York stage. Clem's grandfather Charles Meighan also was a writer, and held down the position of Postmaster General in Ogden, Utah, while penning articles, short stories, and poetry. Clem's father, Charles Meighan Jr., grew up in Utah with literary ambitions but, at age 12, after completing the 8th grade, left home to seek his fortune on the Pacific Coast. Charles Jr. eventually, albeit while still very young, landed a plum position as a newspaper reporter with the Portland Oregonian and thus became a writer like his father and grandfather before him. Clem, a fourth-generation writer and published author in direct line of descent, obviously got his love of books and facility with writing from the Irish side of his family. Clem's maternal grandfather, Charles Mellin, was an any ocean, any tonnage, Swedish Sea Captain and master of many vessels both large and small. Captain Mellin was an active participant in the international shipping world's change from sail to steam, and, appropriate to his profession, died at sea. From the Swedish and seafaring side of his family, Clem inherited his lifelong love of travel, adventure, and far-off people and places.
Clem's earliest years were spent in San Francisco, where he learned to read and write his own name before he was three years old by his mother's expedient of walking him over to Clement Street and having him spell out the street signs. At age 4 1/2 Clem contracted double pneumonia, and almost died; desperate for a cure, the Meighan family moved from foggy San Francisco to Phoenix Arizona and the drier, healthier, desert, where Clem recovered his health. Clem's father by this time had worked not only as a reporter but as a car salesman for Studebaker and as a radio announcer during the early days of that medium's existence; he began a new career in Phoenix in 1930. This was as publisher of the "Jumping Cactus," a crusading newspaper that regularly lambasted the status quo responsible for the great depression the country was inexorably sliding into. Clem's dad not only published the paper from 1930 to 1933, but wrote an editorial column in it called "Pricks" which roused the ire of the Arizona establishment.
Almost entirely self-educated, Charles Meighan Jr. was a master wordsmith and wrote poetry, articles and books as well as political diatribes. At home he encouraged his three sons to master the English spoken and written word. The Meighan kids could all quote lines of poetry at the drop of a hat, and typically used rhyming couplets around the dinner table instead of more pedestrian speech, engaging in verbal duels that sometimes went on for days. Their father's iconoclastic tilting at windmills was intellectually stimulating for Clem and his brothers, but unfortunately also led to the financial decline of the Meighan family. Now on the slippery slope, the Meighans had to move from place to place until the family wound up in an 8 dollar-a-month shack on the outskirts of Phoenix near the "grand canal", a broad, sluggish, irrigation ditch. They had no running water, no electricity, and, most importantly, no money.
Because they were so poor, and because they moved all the time, the three Meighan brothers became very close, and Clem, as the oldest, became their natural ringleader. Rather than bemoan their misfortune, the boys instead had an amazingly creative and happy childhood. In the words of brother Tom, a retired electronics engineer, they were a "nervous, jerky and active" threesome. Clem, from a very early age came up with many unusual ideas and projects and his two younger brothers normally followed his lead. As most of Clem's projects were labor intensive, he tended to do the planning and organizing, while Tom and Don tended to contribute most of the "muscle". In 1933, for example, the Meighan boys found some lumber floating in the canal, and through scrounging and bartering got enough material to build a canoe of wood and galvanized sheet iron waterproofed with tar. Emulating his Sea Captain grandfather, Clem at age 8 thus piloted the first of what would be many water craft in his life.
When Clem was 12, his father's various ventures finally failed utterly, and Lucille Meighan and her three sons moved to grandma Mellin's place in Turlock, California, without Charles. At this time Turlock was something of a Scandinavian enclave in the San Joaquin Valley, irreverently dubbed "squarehead acres" by the Irish-surnamed (but half-Swedish) Meighan boys. If the fatherless family was still always broke, at least now they were surrounded by numerous Swedish friends and relatives. As de facto head of the household, and mature beyond his years, Clem now assumed the role of provider for his family and surrogate father to his younger brothers. Clem came up with a variety of money-making schemes calculated to earn a few cents and put food on the table, all the while not following his father's bad example but instead staying in school, and making certain that his younger brothers did the same.
At age 14 Clem and his brothers formed the "Meighan Marionettes", which toured the San Joaquin Valley towns, giving performances at grange halls, Elks lodges, and so forth and so on. The Meighan kids built a collapsible, portable, puppet stage with paint and materials advanced them on credit from a local hardware store; Clem wrote all the material and the three brothers played all the different parts. The "Meighan Marionettes" were a smashing success, and brought in 50 cents to $1.00 per show, which was split 3 ways. Their crowning glory, as well as swan song, was their entry in the 1939 Stanislaus County Fair at Modesto, and 1st Prize in the Amateur Competition.
In addition to his budding career as a showman, Clem continued to be a voracious reader and exemplary scholar: his nick-name amongst friends and family members was "The Prof" (professor) from the time he was 14 or so. Clem attended Turlock High School, going through at lightning speed, and managed to graduate at 16, two years ahead of his age-mates. Meanwhile, Clem's father rejoined the family and they moved from Turlock back to San Francisco in 1941. Still only 16, Clem got a full-time office job with Tidewater Oil in San Francisco and worked for a year, saving all his money. At age 17, he went off to Mexico alone, spending several months travelling by 4th class train, feeding a wanderlust that would grow to become a dominant force for the rest of his life.
After returning from Mexico, Clem, along with his brothers, formed what they called the "General Science League" because they felt that the hard sciences were not being adequately taught to the younger Meighan boys in the local San Francisco High and Junior High Schools. The three Meighan boys got the use of a storage room measuring 10 x 6 feet in the basement of their apartment building and converted it into a clubhouse/laboratory with tables, benches, chemistry apparatus, etc. Under Clem's leadership, the Meighan brothers recruited between a dozen and 20 local school age kids, and gave lectures in their makeshift laboratory on scientific subjects not covered in school. When the novelty of the lectures paled, Clem developed tests and examinations for the League members, with certificates of advancement (or badges) cut from tin cans and decorated by brother Don, who would later enjoy a professional career as an artist and scientific illustrator. The specialty of all 3 Meighan boys was entomology; in short order Clem became the youngest full member of the California Academy of Sciences while his brothers became junior members as a result of their impromptu scientific activities.
Meanwhile, the specter of war was looming, and Clem was drafted in 1943 at age 18. Destined for combat in the Pacific Theater, he began training in Hawaii as a US Army tank crewman. Clem found the Islands fascinating, and explored those parts of Hawaii he could get to on weekend passes by bus, walking, or hitch-hiking. He couldn't understand why many of his fellow GI's stayed in their barracks or simply hit the Honolulu fleshpots on passes when instead they could be out swimming, chasing down tropical bugs, or trying to speak Pidgen with the locals like he was doing every chance he got. At the completion of his training, Clem was assigned to a US Army Sherman tank detachment supporting Marine amphibious operations for the upcoming Marianas campaign.
Three weeks into the terrible fighting on Saipan, on July 5, 1944, Clem's tank was hit and disabled, and bailing out of his burning tank Clem was hit twice by machine-gun bullets. Rescued under fire, he was evacuated to Eniwetok where triage doctors concluded he would not survive and therefore was not worth the trouble of operating on. Consequently, Clem was covered with his poncho and placed amongst the dead and dying. But, it rained that night, reviving him, and in the morning when an orderly came to the field hospital with the news that there was space for one more casualty on the evacuation plane to Hawaii, Clem threw off his poncho, literally rose from the dead, and was the last wounded man put on the plane. Still only clinging to life, Clem celebrated his 20th birthday in the hospital in Honolulu. Later, when his survival seemed more certain, he was moved to Letterman Hospital at the San Francisco Presidio. He would spend more than 3 years in and out of military hospitals, not being finally medically discharged from the service until 1947.
Meanwhile, Clem was not only battling crippling wounds, but also getting his education onto a new and most promising track. He became a UC Berkeley student while still convalescing, and did much of his undergraduate work while still confined to a hospital bed. By 1947, Clem's earlier interest in insects had been replaced by a new love, archaeology. Although he had started out as an entomologist, the archaeology "bug" bit Clem much harder. He never lost his interest in the natural sciences however, and remained throughout his long career the most humanistic of scientific archaeologists, and the most scientific humanist as well. With his release from the hospital in 1947, Clem threw himself into his new discipline with the same kind of determination characteristic of his childhood and teenage years, and his rise was meteoric. Clem went through the Berkeley undergraduate program in record time, obtaining his Bachelor's degree in 1949.
Moving on to graduate school, Clem worked as an archaeologist on various contract jobs through the University of California Archaeological Survey, all the while pursuing his higher degree. In 1951 he became the top-ranked student research archaeologist of the Survey, and the same year Clem, still only a graduate student, also began teaching anthropology and archaeology at UC Berkeley as a lecturer. In 1952 Clem was hired as an instructor in anthropology at UCLA, and the following year he was awarded his doctorate from Berkeley. In short order Clem rose through the ranks to full professor, became head of his department, and went on to conquer many other academic realms. Clem retired at UCLA in 1991 after 39 amazingly productive years.
Beginning at Berkeley, and even more so at UCLA, Clem Meighan was an archaeologist's archaeologist, a leader of his chosen field in every way. He did every kind of archaeology there was, and when he ran out of old kinds of archaeology to do, invented new kinds. Clem was instrumental in finding previously untried avenues of research, and became one of the founding fathers of modern archaeology as it is practiced today while still only in his 20's and early 30's. Adapting new technologies or new working methods to archaeology was child's play for the man who, after all, could read at age 3 and had built a boat from scratch at age 8. Archaeologically speaking, Clem was always looking for something new, and, more often than not, finding it. He also had a keen interest in the ways and means of archaeology, but not just as a route to some nebulous future result; to Clem any new way by which more archaeology could get done was a positive advance and a real contribution.
Once at UCLA, Clem did research in just about every place archaeology was to be found, in snowy mountain ranges, tropical rain forests, and almost every major desert on the face of the earth. Clem had an enviable record of field projects carried through not only to writeup but to publication, in North, Central and South America, in the Pacific, and in varied parts of the Old World as well. Over his half-century of involvement with the archaeological art, Clem Meighan had an almost unbelievable ability to find the important sites, to put things down on paper, and to get publications out in record time. Clem's credo was that if a site were worth digging, or an area worth exploring, it was also worth writing up. Similarly, he believed that if something was worth writing up, then the eventual report should be of publishable quality.
Clem had limitless reserves of intellect, energy and drive. No reversal ever seemed to phase him, nor to diminish his amazing optimism. He never let setbacks derail his progress towards long or short-term goals. Unlike the jaded attitude affected by some of his peers with only a fraction of Clem's experience, Meighan, even after leading his field for more than 50 years, still found archaeology and archaeological discovery exciting. Clem had only one operating speed: full speed ahead. He kept on going no matter how large or daunting the obstacles were that confronted him. Far from being mindlessly dogmatic, Clem always had an alternate plan, and was able to change research focus, switch sites, or even change countries in which he was working at short notice without any perceived lessening of forward velocity if one research avenue proved to be a dead end. Those who ever made the mistake of trying to challenge his lead were left bobbing in his wake, hoping at best only able to keep him in sight on the horizon as a point of reference and correct heading to follow.
Clem was committed to archaeology not only as a career, but as a way of life. He was one of the staunchest defenders of the archaeological art, and fought bravely against those who would weaken it through appeasement. Clem never gave up, and never surrendered. He never felt the need to apologize either for archaeology itself or for having chosen it as his field, and he left the discipline much better, much broader, and with greater depth, than the condition in which he found it half a century ago.
Clem was a talented and inspirational teacher. He could lecture on almost any archaeological subject at the drop of a hat, and get you interested in that subject, whatever it was. To beginning student archaeologists, Clem Meighan inspired a sense of awe nearly of Old Testament proportions. His students would follow him anywhere and do anything he asked because they always knew that not only would they learn something, but that Clem invariably had their own best interests in mind. In return, Clem was always most generous with his time. Regardless of whether it meant driving for an entire day to see a student's excavation, or limping up a mountainside in pain from his old war wounds to see a student's rock art site, or setting aside his own writing so as to edit a student's first paper for publication, Clem would do it, not only with good grace, but with genuine enthusiasm.
Like many of us, Clem tended to place most students, (or people in general, for that matter) into two basic categories: producers or consumers. If he thought you were a producer, no matter what you were working on, or how alien to his own interests, you had his support and could count on his help and advice. On the other hand, consumers were politely tolerated but basically ignored, provided that they didn't get in the way and gum up the works. Clem tried to show his students that, similarly, there were two kinds of archaeologists; those who only talked about archaeology, and then again, those who did it. Clem's antennae were fine-tuned to detect hypocrisy, falsehood, or duplicity, and he tried his hardest to teach naive or unwary students how to keep themselves from being gulled. As always, Clem taught by example, for while lesser mortals might "design" archaeological research, Clem Meighan actually did archaeological research. Clem motivated his students to be "doers", not "talkers" and was unusually successful in this goal. One of the secrets of his success was that he was not only an inspirational "doer" himself, but a great and convincing "talker" or persuader as well; never pompous, and always able to translate complicated or obfuscated material into easily understandable terms.
Clem always believed that inertia was one of the greatest demons to be overcome, not just in education, but in life as well; it was always there, lurking somewhere nearby, and had to be battled every day if you wanted to get anything done. Clem said that on the surface, there always appeared to be many more excuses not to begin a given research project, not to dig a particular site, or not to begin writing some report than reasons to actually do the work, but, that if one good reason could be found to do archaeology, then that outweighed all the objections. Students hesitant to begin research projects for fear that these could not be given the time and effort they deserved, consequently often got little or nothing done; Clem would gently chide such people with the truism that something was always better than nothing. He believed most strongly that even a little research was better than none at all, and his rallying cry was "When in doubt, dig!" Clem always said that while not every site might be worthy of a "life's work" effort, you could never know which one might be unless you jumped in and got your feet wet.
Clem was one of the brightest people most of us will ever have the chance to meet. As a child, he is probably best described as a boy genius. As an adult, he was inspirational. His imagination knew no bounds, he had endless optimism, and he believed in the limitless possibilities of life. You couldn't be around him and not learn from him. One of the most lasting results of his unique intellectual ability was Clem's amazing success not only as a teacher, but as a recruiter for the archaeological discipline itself. Once "hooked", new recruits were encouraged from that point onwards to and through their own professional careers. Clem, through his warm and generous personality and own vast experience, could put the greatest student emergency into perspective. He could calm the most panicked student with a few well-chosen words, thus averting student academic suicide on many occasions. Less frequently, but no less importantly, his wise counsel surely averted the occasional student divorce and even student-on-faculty homicide.
Clem had a great sense of humor, and a wry sense of irony. He was quick with a joke, a parody, or a comic turn of phrase, and had a unique talent for recognizing the humorous or absurd even in the most momentous or serious event. He was able to take you down a peg without any cruelty but with great economy of statement when necessary. Typical of such comments was one made after hearing some incautious bragging about some minor achievement:
"Well, If you are so smart, how come you aren't rich?"
Finally, Clem Meighan had an intangible quality that can perhaps only be described as luck. Friends, students and admirers flocked to him in the hopes that some of this luck might rub off, despite Clem's frequent protestations that all people manufacture their own luck. He handled adversity with calm and aplomb, vanquishing problems large and small with seeming unconcern. Clem's professional career no less than his life was lived while combating a crippling disability that would have stopped most others dead in their tracks. Clem never complained, despite constant minor and occasionally very great pain from the wounds that had so nearly killed him even before his archaeological career began.
Many if not most younger California archaeologists, regardless of where we work, find it very unusual if we don't discover that Clem Meighan has preceded us to our research locality of the moment by at least a couple of decades. In a very real sense, all present-day California archaeologists are not only following in Clem Meighan's footsteps, but often we are actually walking in his footprints.
Clem Meighan was the very best there ever was. He made it all look so easy.
Brian D. Dillon
en homenaje, June 3, 1997
Los Angeles, California