An Outdoor Legend Remembered: Soc Clay Celebration of Life Memorial



Chris Erwin

For The Beacon

   I recently attended the Celebration of Life event for Clarence Henry Clay, known to the world as “Soc.” He was a brother and sometimes a father figure to me; over the time I spent with him, some 20 years or more, I grew to love him.

   Born Sept 23, 1935, growing up in Greenup County, Soc attended Mckell High School. He began his career as a steelworker, working for Armco Steel for 29 years. By 1960, Soc had managed to create his writing journey, beginning at the Portsmouth Times and expanding into some 27 markets. Over the next 55 years, there was hardly any known primary market that Soc hadn’t published both articles and photographs in. Over his writing days, he was published in Outdoor Life, Fishing Facts, Hartland USA, and Cabela’s Outdoor Journal. His work with these titles would take him to many countries, including Cuba, Mexico, Finland, Russia, and even the Amazon.

   Soc had more awards than I have room to list, but it would be an injustice not to list the ones that would be a milestone for anyone on their own, let alone all of them together going to one man. Legends of the Outdoors National Hall of Fame, The Fishing Hall of Fame, The Trout Hall of Fame are a few of his many accolades. Clay was also named Poet Laureate of Kentucky by Martha Lane Collins.

   Much of the stuff I just listed has been in the press many times, and he deserved every one of them. However, I knew him as one of the most caring, thoughtful people I have ever met. At the celebration of life event, people stood up to tell stories they could remember about Soc, along with a few pieces of poetry. It was just the kind of thing Soc loved.

   I want to state for the record what we lost when Soc passed. He was one of the greatest storytellers that has ever lived. He could captivate an audience and keep them engaged for hours. When I started writing, I told Soc my writing skills were not the best, but my friends say I know how to tell a story. He said, “Chris, we write about the outdoors. Our readers want you to hook them into a story that makes them want to read your words over and over. We are storytellers; the rest will come.” 

   Soc had found the recipe that worked and saw a story in almost everything he examined. So many things he had said to me stuck with me, and he found the simple truth in many things. This made his stories easy to read and understand. The outdoorsman wanted facts and “how-to” instruction put in a story that made reading it fun and engaging. If he was telling about a young boy in a creek catching his first crawdad, by the time he was finished, you had to check the hem of your pants to see if they were wet. You felt the rushing water. You could see the clearing water and the young boy making his stab at the crustation as its pinchers wiggled through his fingers while he struggled to get back to his feet. You could feel the excitement of his reward. Good writers tell stories that come alive, and Soc had it down to a science. 

   In the years to come, many people will write about the path that Soc Clay and others forged in the outdoors. However, few will tell you about the character of the man and about the self-imposed rules that led them to become more than just another guy telling a story.

   When Soc saw something he didn’t feel was right, he would become active in trying to change it, and it appears his son, Tom Clay, is a chip off the old block.

   In closing, I would like to say how much I appreciate the Clay family for letting me become part of so much they did. They guided me, and I found great comfort in them. I didn’t expect to outlive Soc; I will forever miss him and the long chats we had so often. My old friend, I asked God to give you peace and bless your family.