Campus community remembers UD’s first archivist and retired development administrator
John M. Clayton Jr., the first full-time archivist of the University of Delaware who built a records management system that became a national model, passed away peacefully after a short illness on Feb. 23, 2023. He was 81.
Mr. Clayton joined UD in 1967 as a reader services librarian, and after two years on the library staff, he was named the University’s first full-time archivist in 1969. One of his early goals was systematic preservation of master’s theses and doctoral dissertations. In that regard, he served on a steering committee of the Society of American Archivists and joined other academic archivists in developing a national policy on the preservation of theses and dissertations.
Mr. Clayton designed UD’s records management system, which, in turn, was adopted by many other institutions, including the states of Delaware and New York, the University of Tennessee and the Presbyterian Church USA.
In 1983, he chaired the committee that organized a University-wide celebration of the 150th anniversary of then-Newark College receiving its charter from the state in 1833. The 15-month celebration included 18 different events, one of which was the awarding of an honorary degree to then-U.S. Vice President George H.W. Bush.
In 1988, Mr. Clayton was named acting director of University development and later stayed on as assistant director. He moved into the planned giving area in 1997. During his tenure at UD, he had several opportunities to share University memories and stories of UD with students, alumni and donors, and for many years he was a regular feature of alumni spring reunions, conducting bus tours of the campus. He retired from UD in 2003.
Some of Mr. Clayton’s friends and colleagues, including the two UD archivists who succeeded him, shared reminiscences.
Arno Loessner, former vice president and University secretary and associate professor emeritus in the Biden School: “Early in my tenure in the UD central administration, I learned the University had settled a legal complaint in which the federal government claimed it had overpaid the institution for a research project. The research had been done and was accepted, but an audit revealed inadequate records to substantiate claims for faculty time. This may not sound very interesting until realizing the University was required to pay a financial settlement because management lacked sufficient records to sustain legitimate billings. In an effort to prevent a recurrence of this, University Archivist John Clayton and I transformed the Office of University Archives from a storage facility in the basement of the Morris Library to the Office of Archives and Records Management with new management significance. We initiated a program in which the office worked with each academic and administrative department to create a campuswide records management program using professional standards. In turn, each academic and administrative unit head became responsible for the integrity of departmental records management and maintenance of records retention schedules. Records requiring permanent retention were kept in the Archives; other records were retained for the length of time required by the law and standardized protocols were developed by records management experts, accountants and lawyers. What happened next became the icing on the cake. The program was the subject of presentations at professional meetings of the American Records Management Association. Soon, the University of Delaware became a national model with other universities and colleges paying to attend seminars at UD to learn how to replicate our program. When the U.S. Civil Rights Commission found UD’s enrollment practices in violation of Title VI of the Federal Civil Rights Act in early 1980s, federal funding to the state and the University were jeopardized. This time, when our records were subpoenaed by a federal agency, we were prepared to comply. I credit John Clayton’s willingness to do everything necessary to make this program work successfully. John also agreed to serve as director of University Development and worked as a member of the University’s Advancement team. He was a friend to me personally and to the University. His counsel and team spirit were valued and greatly appreciated. He will be missed."
Jean Brown, retired director of University Archives and Records Management, who succeeded Mr. Clayton: “John Clayton was my mentor, my supervisor and my friend. I met John Clayton in the fall of 1978, when I was asked by the University Secretary to conduct the first annual inventory of the University’s Permanent Art Collection on display around campus. The collection was the responsibility of the Secretary’s office, with the Archives handling its day-to-day operation. Soon after completing the inventory, I applied for and got a position in the new records management program being developed by John for University-wide implementation. John and I actually learned records management together. I would never have had the career I ended up having without John’s collegial management style, his willingness to share information, and his insistence that I have the same professional training opportunities that he had. We had to work together to make the new program work. John’s research ability was impressive, and I am certain I am not alone in remembering this quality. Much of the research done, either archival or records management, had legal ramifications of some sort; so, even if people were looking for quick answers, John knew the answers had to be accurate. He was very thorough and instilled the necessity in me. I am grateful to have had the opportunity, the privilege and the good fortune to work closely with John. He was an excellent supervisor; but, even more, he was a valued and trusted friend for more than 40 years.”
Ian Janssen, current director of University Archives and Records Management: “John's passing really marks the end of an era. University of Delaware Archives and Records Management was established in 1969, and John was the very first ‘actual’ archivist ever employed by the school. He was young -- in his 30s -- and to say that he inherited an absolute chaotic mess with few resources to organize and harness it is an understatement. Nevertheless, he persevered and laid the foundation for the collections that exist today. In 1975, he successfully initiated one of the very first records management programs at an American university, something usually relegated to the governmental or corporate spheres. In 1988, he transferred to work as a development officer and spent the remainder of his career there. He was a kind, enthusiastic and supportive man, a real old-school gentleman if you will. He was the first person who interviewed me when I applied to the University back in 2001, and we had an immediate rapport. He would pen notes of encouragement to me periodically -- always old school, handwritten ones on the "nice" University stationary and sent through the campus mail, none of this email business -- and we would meet for lunch occasionally. I've been at the University of Delaware as an employee since 2001. I've seen many people come and go; fewer and fewer of the folks with whom I started seem to be around anymore. John was one of the last vestiges of that ‘silent generation’ that has all but faded from the University if not active life by now.”
Jerome Posatko, former director of advancement services at UD: “I met John in the late '70s when I was in the Facilities Planning Office. John was director of University Archives. We met to discuss the move of Archives from Delaware Avenue to the former Newark High School building which had just become part of UD [and is now Pearson Hall]. My immediate reaction of John was his bow tie and his braces. You did not see many men with braces or bow ties. As we spoke, it seemed to me that the braces and the tie fit John's stiff-upper-lip personality perfectly. John came across as professional and articulate yet with a smile that warmed the conversation. We worked well together in our dealings. And, he always wore his braces! Some 15 years later John and I found ourselves in totally different roles at UD, both of us in the Development Office, John in Planned Giving and me in Advancement Services. In 1999, I met with a group of UD alums in Tampa. One of the alums asked me about making a planned gift in honor of her mom. Nothing came of that before I left UD shortly thereafter. Ten years later, I received a phone call from John, out of the blue, saying that that alum had made the gift about which she spoke with "someone from UD" some years before. The thing is, she did not remember my name but she described me to John and John identified me as the person with whom she had spoken. There was no reason for John to reach out to me about this but he did. John and I had not spoken in those 10 years yet he was kind and considerate enough to call me and tell me about the gift. I was touched by his thoughtfulness. John was that kind of guy.”
Patricia Correale, director of Gift Administration and Processing in University Development: “I was so sorry to hear this news. John was such a nice person. He was always very considerate, kind and friendly. Such a gentleman, and he just loved the University!”
About John Clayton
Born in West Grove, Pennsylvania, he earned bachelor’s and master's degrees in music education from West Chester University and a master’s degree in library science from Drexel University. After beginning his career in high school education, he joined the staff at UD in 1967.
His family notes that he enjoyed listening and playing music, studying genealogy and history, traveling with his wife, Norma, and spending summers in Bridgton, Maine. Mr. Clayton’s love of music and art connected him to many friends, family and places throughout his life. He enjoyed singing and accompanying in both sacred and secular settings, most recently participating in the chorus at both Cokesbury Village, where he lived for the past 12 years, and the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. He also brought music to many residents at Cokesbury through playing the piano and organizing hymn sings in the healthcare wing and assisting with music for chapel services.
Mr. Clayton is survived by his wife of 54 years, Norma Towne Clayton; daughter Signe Bell, who is a policy scientist in the Center for Community Research and Service of UD's Biden School, and her husband, Jason; granddaughters Adeline and Amelia Bell; and numerous close family friends.
A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m., Saturday, April 1, in the auditorium at Cokesbury Village, 726 Loveville Rd, Hockessin, DE 19707.
To read his obituary or leave online condolences, visit Mealey Funeral Homes.