‘The guy was just a saint, truthfully’

Nile Kinnick Clarke memorial set for Nov. 20.

Marilee Clarke describes her late husband, Nile, as a renaissance man. The multi-talented Mercer Island native was a pianist, photographer, green-thumb gardener, beekeeper, teacher, coach and spiritual leader.

“The guy was just a saint, truthfully,” she said.

Nile, who was part of a pioneer Island family and grew up on the area’s western shore, passed away from gall bladder cancer at the age of 74 on Jan. 19. A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. on Nov. 20 at Emmanuel Episcopal Church, 4400 86th Ave. SE, Mercer Island.

Marilee said they received copious warm messages from Nile’s former students during his yearlong battle with cancer. Nile was a 1964 Mercer Island High School (MIHS) graduate, received two masters degrees in education from Western Washington University and returned to the Island to teach and coach for 30 years.

Locally, he positively impacted students’ lives at MIHS and North Mercer Junior High for three decades before moving on to St. Catherine School in Seattle for 10 years and then subbing at Island and Eastside schools into his 70s.

In their letters, students praised Nile for taking the time to care for them and help them through a rough patch. Students said that Nile was a life-changer, Marilee noted.

“I think his greatest super power or greatest gift was he was a real encourager. It was sort of one of those wildfire things. You see that through his whole career, whether it was teaching or coaching, he just had a way of bringing out the best in people,” said Marilee, who was married to Nile for 19 years.

Nile died on their wedding anniversary and Marilee added that he never once complained about his diagnosis throughout their last year together. Every couple of weeks he sent an update on his treatment and health to friends, and ended the note with a quote from scripture and a stunning nature photo.

The Young Life leader had a deep religious faith and met Marilee at Emmanuel Episcopal Church where they bonded and served communion at the altar together. It was the second marriage for both of them and Marilee said that Nile thrived in his role of father, stepfather and grandfather in their large family. When they met, she had two children from a previous marriage and he had three.

After residing on the Island for many years, they bought a 10-acre farm in Fall City and for 12 years lived an idyllic life while “Farmer Nile,” as he called himself, worked in his large vegetable garden, small orchard and tended to their chickens. Marilee now lives in Issaquah.

Nile, who was a star basketball player in high school and college, earned the Distinguished Graduate Award at MIHS and later ran the school’s Key Club and created the Service Learning Program and Pacific Northwest curriculum. He coached cross country, girls basketball, football, track and club soccer. He also planted himself behind the wheel by driving the school’s sports buses.

“His grandsons have become amazing cross country runners, partly because we used to make them run around the farm, around trees,” Marilee laughed while mentioning the twins who are seniors at Tahoma High School. Also in the sports realm, Nile was named after Nile Clarke Kinnick Jr., the 1939 Heisman Trophy winner at the University of Iowa who died in World War II. Nile’s father and Nile Kinnick were first cousins.

Traveling was a vital part of the couple’s life, and Marilee listed memorable trips as a Scandinavian cruise and jaunts to the Galápagos Islands, Machu Picchu and South America. Nile purchased an engagement ring in Rio de Janeiro and proposed to Marilee at Iguazú Falls.

Wherever Nile roamed, he possessed a calm demeanor.

“His favorite mantra was, ‘Enjoy life.’ He did that and then some,” said Marilee, who added that she was blessed to have met him and cherished their time together.