Muscles of Iron

Clarence Harrison, Jr.Legacy of a Strength Hero

Portrait of Clarence Harrison as a young man.

Clarence Harrison was born in 1929 in Louisville, Kentucky. While growing up in the Derby City, he overcame humble beginnings to become an accomplished bodybuilder, a skilled business man, and a master of successful living.

Clarence's father earned a modest living as a house painter, and he was an alcoholic and a very abusive man towards his family. When Clarence was a small boy, he on several occasions saw his father beat his mother in a drunken rage. This created so much fear in young Clarence that he would often hide under his bed whenever his dad came home in an intoxicated stupor.

Clarence Harrison with football in hand and running into the end zone through a crowd of defenders.
Clarence Harrison rushing the ball into the end zone to score the final touchdown of the first half for Male High. Male won the game over Corbin High 55-0 on November 9, 1944.

Witnessing the abuse that his mother endured drove Clarence to be a better man than his father had been, and it was Clarence's mother who taught him the values and morals that formed the foundation of his life success.

When Clarence was 12 years old his father left his mother. Thereafter, she raised him and his brother, Ward, alone.

As a freshman at Male High, Clarence desired nothing more than to play for the school's football team. However, being relatively small in stature, the odds of playing football for the Male Bulldogs seemed stacked against him. The Bulldogs were known for having one of the most established football programs in Louisville, having won the Kentucky State Championship in 1924, and again in 1937 by virtue of the Litkenhous ratings. And, to play ball for Male, determination alone wasn't enough; you also had to have plenty of muscle.

Clarence had the necessary drive and athletic talent to play football on his school's team, but at a mere 135 pounds, he was much too small to impress Paul Jenkins, the school's head coach. To make the Bulldogs roster, Clarence needed to gain muscular bulk, and he went on a quest to do so.

Eager to gain strength and weight, the freshman first tried performing a routine of calisthenics, but this approach didn't do very much for his naturally slim frame. But, then, something very sensational happened - Clarence discovered the power of the barbell after joining the Downtown Louisville YMCA at the corner of Third Street and Broadway.

Clarence in football uniform posing with two of his football teammates
Clarence Harrison (at left) with two of his football teammates at Male High, 1944.

Barbell training did wonders for Clarence's physique, and for his confidence. After nearly two years of hard lifting, he had increased his bodyweight by 30 pounds. And, with several pounds of new muscle packed on his frame, the young man earned a starting role on his school's team as a fullback, a position he held during both his junior and his senior years.

With Clarence in the starting lineup, the Male Bulldogs achieved a winning record in both 1945 and 1946. During the 1945 season, Male won eight of nine games, and they earned the Litkenhous State Championship award. Impressive victories that year included whipping Dixie Heights (KY) 39–0, destroying St. Xavier (KY) 41–0, blowing out Russel (KY) 56–0, and shutting down Corbin (KY) 55–0. After the win against Corbin High, Clarence was featured in the local newspaper, and a photograph showed him storming through Corbin's defense for a touch–down.

In the spring of 1947, Clarence became the first member of his family to graduate from high school, an accomplishment that made his mother very proud. Clarence was very fond of his mother, and he attributed his good scholastic performance to her steady encouragement to work hard on his studies. He had planned to continue his education at a local college, but a sudden tragedy devastated the young lifter, and he withdrew his enrollment. The tragedy happened shortly after his best friend dropped him off one evening. As his friend was driving home, he tried to beat an oncoming train, and his car was hit. Clarence's friend survived the collision, but the accident left him almost completely paralyzed.

Clarence Harrison kneeling in uniform and hat with Navy buddies
Clarence Harrison (bottom right) with four of his Navy mates, 1947.

Still traumatized by the paralysis of his best friend, Clarence joined the U.S. Navy in July, 1947 hoping to find peace of mind. He graduated from boot camp as an Honor man at the Great Lakes Naval Training Base, but soon after the Louisville native developed an allergic reaction to the wool in his Navy uniform. His allergic reaction became so severe, Navy personnel issued him a medical discharge in November, 1947. Clarence's release from the Navy left him unemployed and without a career path — but just temporarily.

Shortly after his discharge from military service, Clarence returned to Louisville to live with his mother. With school and the Navy behind him, he became highly focused on his bodybuilding ambitions. However, after weeks of unemployment, his mother grew concerned, and she urged her son to find a job. Not one to disappoint his mother, Clarence persuaded a personnel manager at The American Radiator and Standard Sanitary Corporation, located in Louisville, to hire him. The manager had been impressed with the young man's positive attitude, and he awarded him a job working the yard.

In the yard, Clarence was primarily responsible for unloading plumbing supplies from delivery trucks, storing the supplies in vast warehouses, and retrieving specified parts for shipment. Much of this work involved nothing more than moving big and heavy items with a fork truck, but this responsibility gave Clarence a chance to show his new employer that he could handle any job and work well with people.

Once on board, Clarence quickly attracted the attention of upper management at American Standard. He was a fast learner, and he completed his assigned jobs quickly and efficiently. The bodybuilding champion also demonstrated vision and an uncanny ability to gain the confidence and trust from the people around him. So impressed was management with the young bodybuilder, he was promoted to a sales counter position just months after his initial hire. This promotion proved to be the beginning of a spectacular career in sales management in the plumbing industry.

Clearence Harrison posing in his high school jacket with friend in front of a white Roadmaster automobile
Clarence Harrison (at left) wearing his Male High jacket while standing in front of a Buick Roadmaster with a friend. The Roadmaster was Clarence's favorite kind of car. Photograph circa 1945.

Despite a busy work schedule, by the end of 1947, Clarence had become one of the best built men in Louisville. Few local bodybuilders could match his superb proportions, level of muscular development, and poster–boy good looks. His handsome physique was not only bursting with muscle, it was also highly polished with near-perfect symmetry. Roy Griffin, the Director at the YMCA, was so impressed with Clarence's achieved level of physical development, he urged him to compete in local bodybuilding competitions.

Urged on by Griffin and by other fellow members at the YMCA, on March 21, 1948, Clarence competed in his first bodybuilding contest — the 1948 Mr. Kentucky. This event, which was the fourth in an annual series, was held in conjunction with the Kentucky AAU weightlifting championships at the Downtown YMCA.

Although only 18 years old, Clarence proved to be a worthy competitor in his first bodybuilding competition, and he earned a second place trophy. The winner of the 1948 Mr. Kentucky contest was John Gaal, a powerhouse from Fort Knox.

Incredibly, Gaal also took first place in the middleweight division of the weightlifting competition by totaling 610 pounds in the three Olympic lifts. Other winners in the weightlifting competition were Joseph Pulliam (featherweight, 455 pound total), Richard Flanigan (lightweight, 600 pound total), and Kenneth Lloyd (heavyweight, 645 pound total). James Robinson, who was just 17 years old, placed third in the physique show.

Clarence Harrison bench pressing a wagon-wheel barbell on an old wooden stool
Clarence Harrison bench pressing, circa 1947.

Encouraged by his high placement at the 1948 Mr. Kentucky event, Clarence went on a quest to become the 1949 Mr. Louisville. He continued training three times per week, and during each workout he would aim to either increase the number of reps performed in a given exercise, or the amount of weight used. This training approach worked extremely well for him, and by the time of the Mr. Louisville competition, the lifting enthusiast was bigger, shapelier, and more defined than ever before.

The Mr. Louisville event, along with the Louisville Weightlifting Championships, took place on January 16, 1949 at the Downtown YMCA. On stage as a physique competitor, Clarence displayed an aura of confidence, and a large crowd cheered throughout his well-orchestrated posing routine. One pose after another, the audience was dazzled by his deep chest, fortress–like back, defined midsection, thick arms, and powerful legs.

Following his spectacular performance on stage, Clarence emerged as the winner of the 1949 Mr. Louisville contest by defeating some of the city's most respected physique competitors. Victims of his superb performance included Jimmy Robinson (2nd), Ralph Cameron (3rd), and Richard Flanigan (4th). Some years after Clarence's big win, Cameron remarked, “Harrison was just too good to beat.”

Although he fell short in the physique event, lifting standout Richard Flanigan easily won the middleweight class and the best-lifter award in the weightlifting competition by totaling 650 pounds. The other class winners in the lifting event were Glendol Waide (lightweight, 465 pound total), John A. Thompson, Jr. (light heavyweight, 520 pound total), and Lester Dassoff (heavyweight, 590 pound total).

Shortly after becoming Mr. Louisville, Clarence was featured in The Courier-Journal Magazine, a publication which was issued each Sunday with the local newspaper. Publicity brought forth by this article helped to make the 19–year-old bodybuilder a local celebrity, and more than a handful of young and attractive women were eager to capture the heart of this handsome young man. Brother Ward reflected, “. . . 90 percent of the telephone calls coming in at 741 East Broadway was from unknown girls calling to congratulate him [Clarence].”

On May 21, 1949, Clarence Harrison returned to the posing dais at the Louisville YMCA to compete in the Mr. Kentucky contest. The physique battle was fierce, but, after the dust settled, he emerged as the victor. John Rentschler placed second, while Jimmy Clark placed third. Both Rentschler and Clark were top–rate competitors, and Clarence acknowledged after the show that they were tough to beat.

Clarence Harrison striking a double biceps pose on the posing dias
Clarence Harrison displaying an impressive double-biceps pose at the Hank Darnell Studio of Physical Culture in Louisville, Kentucky, circa 1949.

On the night of the Mr. Kentucky physique show, the 1949 Kentucky Weightlifting Championships was also held. The Louisville YMCA Barbell Club was expected to win the team competition, but the Henderson YMCA pulled off an upset and took first place. Nonetheless, Richard Flanigan, who was a member of the Louisville YMCA Barbell Club, was the high lifter with a 660 pound total.

On February 24, 1950, Clarence competed in an odd–lift contest that was held in conjunction with the 1950 Mr. Louisville and Louisville Weightlifting Championships. The odd–lift competition included the squat, the deadlift, the bench press, three lifts which Clarence regularly practiced. Both Harrison and Richard Flanigan totaled a contest high of 1,205 pounds in the event, but Flanigan was declared the winner of the competition by virtue of his lighter bodyweight. Nonetheless, Clarence was happy with his second place finish, as losing a strength contest to the mighty Flanigan certainly was no disgrace.

John Rentschler, who placed second to Clarence a year earlier, won the physique portion of the 1950 Louisville Championships, and brothers Herman and George Marlowe earned second and third place, respectively. In the lifting competition, the winners were Elmer Hammon (middleweight), Richard Flanigan (light-heavyweight), and Walter Mucker (heavyweight). Flanigan's 650–pound total was enough for him to be crowned, once again, the weightlifting champion of the city.

Although winning Mr. Kentucky was a monumental achievement, Clarence's dream was to win the AAU Mr. America, which arguably was the most prestigious bodybuilding event in the world during the 1940s and 1950s. Bert Goodrich won the first Mr. America contest in 1938, but the big fellow from Louisville hoped to be the first person from Kentucky to win the distinguished physique competition.

Clarence Harrison doing a side chest pose during a posedown with David Robinson, Richard Flanigan, and Ralph Cameron during the 1949 Mr. Louisville competition
The top four performers at the 1949 Mr. Louisville competition flex their muscles. From left to right: Clarence Harrison (winner), David Robinson (second place), Richard Flanigan (fourth place), and Ralph Cameron (third place).

By virtue of his Mr. Kentucky victory, Clarence qualified to enter the 1950 Mr. America, a competition that was held at Philadelphia's Academy of Music on May 12-13, 1950. John Farbotnik won the big event, but he did so without being contested by the Louisville bodybuilder. As it turned out, the Clarence never stepped onto the posing dais.

A few days before the Mr. America show, Clarence and his mother traveled by bus to Philadelphia so that he could compete in the competition. His mother had never seen a big metropolis before, and when they approached Philadelphia, then the nation's third largest city, she began to panic. So fearful was Clarence's mother of the city's dense traffic and crowded infrastructure, she asked her son, amidst a panic attack, if they could leave Philadelphia and go back to Louisville. Without hesitation, Clarence complied with his mother's request, and he let go of his dream to compete against America's most elite bodybuilders.

Clarence was disappointed that he was unable to compete in Philadelphia, but his dream of being crowned Mr. America paled in comparison to the love he had for his mother. As such, Clarence never held regret that he was unable to compete at the Academy of Music.

Clarence displaying his muscular back, arms, and legs with the Ohio River and the Conrail Railroad Bridge in the background
Clarence Harrison showing his exceptional physique with the Conrail Railroad Bridge in the background. This bridge spans the Ohio River between Louisville, Kentucky and Clarksville, Indiana.

In the early 1950s, Clarence married Colleen, an attractive young woman who had an ambition to become a model. With Colleen's support, he made a decision to quit his job at American Standard and move to California Clarence was fascinated by the Golden State, and he believed that to “make it” in life, there was no better place to be. After all, many of the nation's top bodybuilders lived and trained in California, and there certainly was no shortage of movie stars living in mansion homes along the West Coast.

Although Clarence believed that a move to California would improve his chances of hitting the “big time” in bodybuilding, his decision to move to the sunshine state was prompted more by his desire to become an actor. Perhaps inspired by the success of Steve Reeves, Clarence hoped that his good looks, spontaneous sense of humor, natural charm, and desire to work in front of a camera would attract Hollywood scouts. He was always full of life, and the stage seemed like a perfect fit for his ambitious and outgoing personality.

Despite his ambitions, Clarence's move to California in the 1950s got off to a rocky start. For the first time in years, he found himself unemployed, and recognition did not come nearly as easy as the Louisville bodybuilder had anticipated. California may have been the Mecca for success, but competition to get noticed and to land lucrative contracts was fierce.

Clarence Harrison's first-place trophy with wooden base, gold-colored plaque with “1949 Mr. Kentucky engraged”, and gold-colored bodybuilder figure on top
This is the trophy that Clarence Harrison was awarded after winning the 1949 Mr. Kentucky title.

After several weeks of hardship in California, Clarence appeared to get a lucky break. A feeler in the acting field got him an invitation to attend a party at which some influential people would be attending, among them Raymond Burr of Perry Mason fame. Things went sour, however, when Clarence was told that he would be expected to provide sexual favors in return for being introduced to individuals who could jump start his acting career. He was horrified by the offer, and he refused the exchange.

With his financial savings dwindling, Clarence made one last attempt to get his acting career off the ground. He made an appointment to discuss his ambitions with Josephine Dillon, an established actress, and Clark Gable's former coach and first wife. Dillon had played a key role in launching Gable's acting career, and the Kentuckian hoped that she could do the same for him. Perhaps she could have, but after learning from the famous coach how much time and commitment would be required, Clarence realized that pursuing an acting career was not feasible for him. His immediate need to earn a steady income and support his wife brought on this realization.

In need of steady employment, Clarence went back to what brought him his greatest success – sales. He landed a job with the Grinnel Corporation, a firm that was one of the largest manufacturers and suppliers of plumbing supplies and fixtures for automatic sprinkler systems. Employed at the Long Beach, California facility, the former Mr. Kentucky excelled at his new job selling plumbing supplies. His sales were so voluminous, in fact, that he won the “Top Salesman” award five times during his 11 years of employment with the firm. He also became their first “Million-Dollar” salesperson.

Employment at the Grinnel Corporation helped to solidify Clarence's financial matters, but Colleen often suffered from depression, perhaps because her dream of becoming a successful model didn't materialize, and perhaps because she was lonely when her husband traveled for business. To ease her suffering, Colleen started to drink excessively, and she became a chronic alcoholic. The alcohol abuse took a toll on the couple, and Clarence and Colleen divorced after 11 years of marriage.

Clarence Harrision wearing a checkered-style suit and a striped tie and posing side-by-side with four of his collegues from Hamilton Supply Company
Clarence Harrison (second from left) with four of his colleagues from the Hamilton Supply Company in Gardena, CA. There, Harrison held simultaneous positions as General Manager of the Commercial Industrial Division and as Corporate Branch Manager.

A few years after the breakup of his marriage to Colleen, Clarence left employment at the Grinnel Corporation to become a sales manager at Burke Mechanical. His new job brought him to Orange County, California, and he continued to work in the plumbing and heating wholesale supply business. Clarence had also remarried, but his second marriage was relatively short lived. Through this marriage, however, Clarence achieved one of his greatest joys in life by becoming a father. His first son, Chance, was born in 1963, and today he is a Pilot Airline Captain for FedEx.

During the late 1960s, Clarence was given a special assignment while employed at Burke Mechanical. The bodybuilder was promoted to Director of Purchasing for a 500–man Walt Disney World project in Orlando, Florida. There, he was responsible for supplying the new entertainment resort with needed plumbing and air–conditioning supplies, and his stupendous efforts helped ensure that all required plumbing fixtures and indoor air–quality systems were in place and operational for the park's grand opening on October 1, 1971.

On a fateful day during 1970, Trudy Coleman, a gorgeous young lady from Huntington, West Virginia, was hired as a secretary by Burke Mechanical and assigned to work for Clarence at Walt Disney World. The bodybuilder was overwhelmed by the new secretary's beauty and outgoing personality, but he managed to conceal his attraction to her for some time. One evening after a rough day at work, however, Clarence accompanied Trudy to a local bar for a drink, and this sparked a love relationship that forever fulfilled his heart.

Trudy and Clearance Harrision smiling side by side on their wedding night
Wedding photograph of Trudy and Clarence Harrison, January 1, 1971.

On January 1, 1971, Clarence and Trudy were married in Las Vegas, Nevada. Pat Burke, who was the owner at Burke Mechanical, threw a reception for the new couple at a private club, but they never showed. Trudy explained that she and her new husband were so “wonderfully involved” following their wedding, attending the reception, although their original intention, “was not possible”.

Pat was not upset with Clarence’s failure to show. He understood completely his employee’s immense feelings for Trudy, and the next day he told the big guy that all was okay.

In the highest gesture of friendship, Mr. Burke also helped the Harrison's pack for their honeymoon trip to Southern California, and subsequently he flew the newlyweds in his private jet to their two resort destinations — Palm Springs and then Big Bear Lake. Clarence and Trudy really appreciated having such an extremely close and understanding friend.

Just days after the couple's return from their honeymoon, Clarence decided that he did not want Trudy to work any longer, and he fired her. Trudy was shocked and somewhat hurt by her firing, but she understood that Clarence wanted a husband and wife relationship with her, not a boss and employee relationship. He also wanted Trudy to have more time to spend with Chance, and with Todd, her four-year-old son from a previous marriage.

After six months of marriage, Clarence wanted to return to the Golden State. He arranged for a job transfer back to the Burke Mechanical facility at Long Beach, and he and his family took up residence in Orange County. Clarence had a passion for California, and he believed that both of his boys would benefit by growing up there. Trudy, at first, found it difficult to adjust to the West Coast way of life, but, over time, she found Southern California to be a beautiful and exciting place to live.

Trudy Harrison in white blouse and Clarence Harrison in dark suit, white shirt, and dress tie, pose for their 20th wedding aniversary
Trudy and Clarence Harrison celebrating their 20th wedding anniversary, January 1, 1991.

Clarence was enthralled by the California bodybuilding scene, and he often trained at the original Gold's Gym in Venice Beach. He greatly enjoyed training alongside the “champs,” and he found the atmosphere at the landmark gym to be charged with energy. Gold's Gym was often referred to as “The Mecca,” and many of the world's most famous bodybuilders trained there, including Franco Columbu, Frank Zane, Dave Draper, Ken Waller, and the king of them all, Arnold Schwarzenegger.

During the late 1970s, a person who worked for Clarence at Hamilton Supply was Master of Ceremonies at a Mr. California physique competition. He arranged for the Harrison family to sit in the front row, right next to Arnold Schwarzenegger, during the event. Todd, who was then about 10 years old, was recovering from a broken leg, and he was wearing a cast. After the show, Schwarzenegger signed Todd's cast, and the Harrison family kept this cast for many years. When asked to recall her thoughts when she first saw the Austrian Oak, Trudy replied, “Arnold was a pretty boy, but my husband was the handsome one.”

Due in large part to his dad's positive teachings, Todd acquired a strong work ethic at a relatively early age. At age 12, he began working part time for his father as a stock boy. From the onset, Todd was a real go getter, and he worked diligently to carve his own career path. Clarence encouraged his son to fulfill his business ambitions, and Todd, like his father before him, slowly worked his way up the corporate ladder through sheer hard work and dogged determination. Since the age of 16, Todd has been working full time, and today he is a successful wholesales manager for a leading plumbing supply company.

Clarence wearing a navy-blue suit and posing with collegues from Briggs Industries
Clarence Harrison (front center) posing with eight of his associates at Briggs Industries, Tampa, Florida. There, Clarence was Sales Manager of National Builder and Commercial Accounts.

Clarence believed that by regularly lifting weights, a person could develop the confidence and discipline required to succeed in any endeavor. As such, when Todd expressed an interest in building up his muscles, his stepfather devoted considerable time to teaching him the fundamentals of effective resistance training. With a little help from his father, Todd became an established bodybuilder, and he excelled in various sports, including tennis, football, and basketball. While Todd earned his own success, he gives his father credit for the steady encouragement and coaching he provided him with.

During his school years, Clarence was an excellent student, and he took his studies very seriously. He particularly liked business and mathematics, and he was well known for having exceptional analytical skills. It was said that Clarence could add numbers in his head “in a split second.”

Clarence also possessed an unusual ability to find simple and practical solutions to seemingly difficult and complex problems. One time, the Harrison's pet dog, a mini Schnauzer, saw a cat, and she began chasing after it. While the canine was running at top speed, she tried to make it through two closely-spaced pipes in a neighbor's yard. The spacing was too tight, and the mini Schnauzer got her head stuck between the pipes upon a violent impact. The impact knocked the Harrison's dog out cold, and several attempts were made to free the dog from the pipes — all to no avail. Desperate to save her pet, Trudy called the fire department for help. When the fire folks showed up, they too could not find a simple way to free the animal, so they decided to cut the pipes. Just as they were about to start cutting, Clarence showed up at the scene, and he quickly analyzed the situation. After a spilt-second thought, he ran into his garage and got a vise. With the tool in his powerful hands, the bodybuilder then spread the pipes apart just enough to free the dog. Clarence's fast thinking not only saved the family pet, but did so without bringing on an expensive repair bill.

Clarence Harrison with his left arm around his son, Chance, in a brace of affection
Clarence Harrison and son, Chance

In 1986, at the age of 57, Clarence accepted a job as a sales manager at Briggs Industries at the regional office in Tampa, Florida. The Briggs Manufacturing Company was founded by Walter Owen Briggs in 1908, and it once was the world's largest independent producer of automobile bodies. The success of the company allowed Briggs to purchase the Detroit Tigers baseball team in 1935, and his franchise won the World Series in 1945. When the major car companies started producing their own auto bodies in the late 1930s, Briggs converted his company into a successful plumbing manufacturing and supply firm, a speciality business they still enjoy today. This move saved hundreds of employees from losing their jobs, and it set the stage for Clarence to bring his management skills to the firm many years later.

The new job at Briggs Industries brought the Harrison family to Apollo Beach, Florida, a beautiful waterfront community appropriately named after the Greek and Roman god of the sun. Clarence liked the warm water and the lush tropical foliage that Apollo Beach had to offer, and the year–round sunshine was ideal for soaking up the rays.

Clarence continued working at Briggs Industries until he retired in 1994. His retirement marked the end of a brilliant business and sales career. However, even long after leaving the work force, he continued to train with weights religiously. He often worked out with his son Todd, who had become quite a muscle man and athlete himself.

Clarence Harrison standing next to son Todd in front of big boxes in a plumbing-supply warehouse
Clarence Harrison (at right) stands proudly with his son, Todd, inside a plumbing-supply warehouse.

In early 2009, Clarence began showing signs of memory loss. Upon medical evaluation, doctors determined that he had suffered from a series of small strokes. Despite medical intervention, however, the strokes continued, and they became life threatening. His doctors did everything they could to save him, but on October 24, 2009, the great bodybuilder from Louisville passed away at the age of 80 from complications brought on by the strokes.

Remarkably, Clarence had continued to train with weights until one week before his death. His love for lifting was so great, that he refused to put down the iron until his illness caused him to become debilitated. Just prior to his death, the “Universal Man” was still well proportioned, and he weighed a muscular 165 pounds, the same as during his standout football days at Male High.

With his death, Clarence left behind a family who loved and adored him. Talking about her soul mate a year after his passing, Trudy remarked, “He was the biggest man I've ever known.”

Clarence and Trudy Harrison in a family portrait with son Todd, his wife Amanda, and their three children
Clarence and Trudy Harrison with son Todd, his wife Amanda, and their three children. Top row: Todd (at left) and Clarence. Bottom row, from left to right: Sydney, Amanda, Austin, Trudy, and Brandon.

Although Clarence possessed large and shapely muscles, his greatest strength was his warm and outgoing personality. He had a knack for leading and motivating people, and he often formed a lasting and favorable impression upon the individuals he met. For example, one evening, 24 years after his high school graduation, Clarence called Paul Jenkins on the telephone to say hello. After Jenkins answered his telephone, Clarence said, “Hi Coach,” without identifying himself. Without hesitation, the coach replied in an enthusiastic tone, “Hi Mayor. How are you?” “Mayor” was Clarence's nickname during his football days at Male High.

Clarence had a deep and abiding faith in Christ. At the age of twelve, his Mother saw to it he attend the local Baptist Church. There he met a Mrs. Brewster, who proved to be very influential in Clarence's future success. Mrs. Brewster kept a close eye on Clarence and his spiritual growth with the goal of Baptism in mind. At the age of sixteen, Mrs. Brewster was successful, and Clarence walked to the front of the church and accepted Christ as his personal Savior. This had a profound effect on his character. As he matured, he lived a responsible, loving, giving and forgiving life.

Clarence Harrison sitting with son Chance and his two children
Clarence Harrison with son Chance and his two children. From left to right: Drake, Chance, Clarence, and Bryce.

Clarence's ability to lead and motivate people was responsible for much of the success he enjoyed throughout his life. On the football field, he was like a player coach, and he would really “fire up” his teammates with his initiative, drive, motivation, and encouragement. His presence brought his team much more than his athletic skill; it brought them synergy. When Clarence was on the field, there was a sense of unity, and the team became much more than the mere sum of the individual players. His ability to bring synergy to a team would later launch his successful career in sales.

In the gym, Clarence's enthusiasm and dedication to heavy lifting was contagious, and his presence often motivated the other bodybuilders around him to train with greater focus and intensity. When the man from Louisville hit the weights, he created an aura of power across the entire gym with his relentless drive and magnificent physique. He trained for results, and the lifters around him were enticed to follow his lead. You could say that Clarence led the team in the iron room, just like he did on the football field.

Although Clarence started lifting weights to help him earn a spot on his high school football team, pushing heavy iron brought him much more than just larger muscles. Through a rigorous weight training program, he learned how to set goals, how to focus his drive and energy to achieve his goals, and how to solve problems efficiently and systematically. Achieving success in the gym took hard and persistent work, and with each accomplishment earned in the weight room, the Louisvillian grew not only stronger, but more confident and ambitious.

Trudy and Clarence Harrison embraced in love
A marriage with everlasting love – Trudy and Clarence Harrison.

As his muscles began to blossom, Clarence began to understand that the same formula he used to achieve success in the gym could be used to propel him in any chosen endeavor. Just as building big muscles requires grit, tenacity, drive, focus, and an ability to overcome setbacks, he saw that these same attributes of bodybuilding success could be applied to help him achieve equal success in all of his chosen endeavors. So clearly did Clarence recognize this connection, he referred to weightlifting as his “ticket to life.”

Clarence was a man who could light up a room, and people wanted to be around him, whether he was at work, in the gym, or at a social gathering. As a lover of life, he treated the people around him with respect and dignity. He was a person who was 100 percent genuine, and wanted nothing more than to make the world a better place.

Nearly every success in Clarence's life began with an understanding of what he wanted to accomplish, followed by a burning desire to make it happen. His football success began with a burning desire to make his high school football team; his bodybuilding success began with a burning desire to become super strong and fit; and, his business success began with a burning desire to become a top salesperson.

Face portrait of Clarence Harrison when he was middle aged
Portrait of Clarence Harrison, a true hero.

With a burning desire to make things happen, Clarence was a master of transcending his dreams into reality. Once the muscle man knew what he wanted, he became a man of directed and focused action. Through organized planning, an acquirement of needed knowledge, and a never–ending internal push to climb upward, he molded the world around him to fit his desires. He never waited for something to happen; he made it happen.

Rarely did Clarence offer excuses or feel sorry for himself. He had the momentum of a speeding locomotive, and when setbacks or problems were encountered, he would keep plunging forward until he found an alternate and more suitable path. Clarence first wielded this approach into action as a teenager after Paul Jenkins told the young and aspiring athlete that he was too small to play football. Clarence was not deterred by his “failure” to make the Male High football team during his freshman year; he met his setback head on by becoming a stronger and better player. And, later in life, when he lost a desired sale in the business world, the champ didn't dwell on the lost opportunity — he found a new opportunity and made a sale to somebody else.

Clarence greatly enjoyed working with other people, and he considered his business partners and customers to be friends. Whether on the golf course, or at a client's office, he made many a business deal on a handshake and good old-fashioned trust. His football days had taught him the value of team work, and in business he considered the ability to create a winning team atmosphere one of the most important attributes an employee could possess.

Clarence Harrison in his late teens or early 20s doing a double-biceps shot on a posing dias
Clarence Harrison displaying his handsome physique, circa 1948.

Clarence was never too busy to ask a person how he or she was doing, or to complement somebody for a good deed. His genuine interest in other people, along with his pleasing personality, made him well liked everywhere he went. People saw the strong man as a leader, a person they could trust, and a person who cared about them. Much of his success in business and sales — and in life — can be attributed to this.

Training for bodybuilding competition taught Clarence the importance of the big three — hard work, persistence, and self–discipline. Each component of this triad became deeply ingrained within him, and many of his greatest triumphs came about because of an unyielding and focused effort. Regardless how slow progress may have been for Clarence, the Louisville native kept working at full force to make improvement. This was a winning method that eventually transcended him from a 135-pound weakling to a 175–pound Mr. Kentucky winner. And, it was the same method that he utilized in the business world to climb from a stock boy to an Executive Vice President of Sales.

Both in the gym and in business, Clarence surrounded himself with the most talented and dedicated workers he could. However, what really separated the muscle man from many of his peers was his ability to establish a working harmony within a team. Throughout his business career, he encouraged each established crew to work together as a focused unit, to avoid interpersonal conflict, and to always keep the team goal firmly in mind. This commitment to team work made Clarence a powerful leader.

Clarence Harrison doing an impressive side chest pose
A mighty chest pose from Clarence Harrison at the 1949 Mr. Louisville competition.

Although always respectful to his “team members”, the Mr. Kentucky winner expected nothing less than high performance from those who worked for him, and from those who trained with him in the gym. Todd, as a teenager, learned this lesson the hard way after he failed to complete an assigned chore. One evening, after Clarence came home from work, he noticed that the garbage cans had not been picked up - for a second straight time. After walking into the house, Clarence told his son, “If you worked for me, I would fire you. In fact, you do work for me. You're fired.” With this statement, Todd lost his allowance until he learned to be responsible and to complete his chores promptly.

Clarence was a winner for many reasons, but perhaps the biggest factor in his success was his habit of doing much more than was expected from him. Whether in the gym or in the office, the “Universal Man” always gave it his all. He was a self–achiever, and the rewards he attained from his efforts did not come from a paycheck; they came from loving what he did, and from the satisfaction he gained by doing a job fully and completely. This habit first brought the bodybuilder recognition as a stock boy at American Standard, and it continued to propel him up the success ladder for the remainder of his days.

Clarence always focused high, and he did not allow other people to bring him down. In fact, the bodybuilder often used humor to let an ill–intentioned critic know that he could not be intimidated. One time, in an attempt to bring him down a notch, such a critic exclaimed, “I am not going to invite you to my party. Do you know why?” Quick on his feet, Clarence cheerfully replied, “Good luck, I guess.”

Clearance Harrison showing his handsome good looks and impressive arm development on the posing stage
Clarence Harrison's model-like good looks, outgoing personality, and proportionate physique were a one-of-a-kind combination.

Where others saw nothing but emptiness or despair, Clarence always sought to find a golden opportunity. No matter how tough things seemed, he studied every possibility, looked at each situation from every angle, and questioned each of his assumptions until he could make something good happen. Clarence was an opportunity seeker, and where he couldn't find an opportunity, he would make one.

Clarence could look at the same thing as everybody else, but see much more. Like a good detective, he sized up every situation by looking for hidden clues, by analyzing every sense of energy, by penetrating beyond the surface, by looking from a unique perspective, and by utilizing his sound mind to distinguish truth from falsehood. Using such a perceptual approach, he became known in the business world for his ability to “size a person up” quickly, a skill that allowed him to better meet his customer's needs, and to avoid potentially bad situations. Such a developed skill also helped him to establish more productive work teams, to find hidden opportunities, and to distinguish friends from people who did not have his best interests in mind.

Despite his bodybuilding and business ambitions, Clarence always had time to help a friend. He was a great listener, and he gave anybody who wanted to talk his full and complete attention — with both his ears and his eyes. Clarence really listened to people. He didn't interrupt them; he didn't let his mind wander; he didn't fire off a retort; he just focused wholeheartedly on what the person was saying. Such a style of listening brought the bodybuilder from Louisville a good deal of loyal friends, and it helped him to really understand what made a person tick.

Birthday card given to Clarence Harrison by his wife's mother.  The front of the card shows the face of a young and handsome Cherokee man.
Trudy's mother gave Clarence this very special birthday card. Inside the card, she wrote, “This Cheyenne reminds me of your great strengths! So peaceful! So pleasing! So handsome! So precious!” This card is especially significant because Clarence was part Cherokee.

Although Clarence achieved greatness in the office and in the gym, it was his wife, his two sons, and his grand children who brought the bodybuilder true happiness. The achievement of business success, muscles, and self-glory was always secondary in importance to him. What really mattered to Clarence was spending time with his family.

As a husband, Clarence was passionate, sincere, and ever connected. During his 38 years of marriage with Trudy, the muscle man never quit expressing how much he loved her. He was a true romantic, and he often showed his feelings in quite imaginative ways. When Clarence first proposed to Trudy, he gave her a diamond ring while they were flying 30,000 feet in the air aboard a private jet. And, 20 years later, he asked Trudy to renew their wedding vows with all the same charm and desire he had displayed the first time.

As a father, Clarence was affectionate, fun loving, supportive, and a teacher by word and example. Although he was never afraid to stand up for his view as a parent, he encouraged his kids to find their own path in life. Clarence also made it a priority to be there for his kids, both during and after their childhood.

Heart locket necklace with the word “always” engraved on one side and a picture of Clarence Harrison on the other side
“Clarence was the biggest man I've ever known.” Trudy Harrison.

Despite having a busy work schedule, Clarence made time for leisure, relaxation, and recreation. Doing so helped him avoid mental burnout, and taking time away from work allowed him to enjoy his success.

Clarence was “full of life,” and he enjoyed being with people and having fun. He always had somebody to see, or somewhere to go — the movies, a new restaurant, or a good show. He also liked to dance, to bowl, and to listen to music. His fun loving nature often made him the life of a party, and he could light a room with his warm smile and special charm.

While Clarence had a warm smile and special charm, it was his sincere and genuine nature that made him such a special human being. He loved people, and his keen interest in others made them feel special. People believed in Clarence because he believed in them. People trusted him because he trusted them. And, people showed full confidence in him because he showed full confidence in them. In Trudy's words, her husband was “a shining personality.”

Photo 25

White napkin with engraged in black cursive letters across it, “Clarence Harrison, Jr. 1929 - 2009”

A Special Acknowledgement

Thank you, Trudy, for graciously inviting me to your home and for sharing so many interesting stories about the Harrison family with me. The information about Clarence you provided left an enduring impression within me, and I cannot express in words my gratitude for helping me document your late husband’s life story. Thank you also for giving me permission to share with the world the wonderful photographs in this article. Without your help, this tribute would not have been possible.

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