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Tinker Tailor Surgeon Spy: Fletcher Derrick ’55

Alumni Profile: Fletcher Derrick '55

No one would suspect a urological surgeon to be a covert courier — even his wife.

“AS THE CIA SAYS, I was hiding in plain sight.”

After graduating from Clemson in 1955, Fletcher Derrick joined the Army as a young medical student at the Medical University of South Carolina and was sent to Fort Benning in Georgia for an internship. Following medical school, he traveled with the Army to Germany and continued his urology training there at a hospital in Landstuhl. When Derrick and his wife, Martha, returned to the U.S. with a new baby, Derrick began his four-year residency at MUSC, where he helped start the kidney transplant program.

Next came teaching and chairing the urology department at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., until Derrick finally settled back in Charleston, where he started his private practice. “Settled” is perhaps the wrong word because the Derricks traveled constantly for medical conferences and committee trips to places like Cambodia, Egypt, Scandinavia, Japan, Peru and Nepal, to name a few.

But Derrick’s work as a covert courier for U.S. Military Intelligence began long before this, when he was a medical intern at Fort Benning — at the height of the Cold War.

“The commanding officer called me in on what I thought was a routine check,” Derrick says. But after a few moments of small talk, the officer approached him with the courier position, which involved transporting and delivering sensitive documents around the globe during Derrick’s many travels. When asked if he would be in any danger, the officer replied, “Highly unlikely.” The next question was, “Can I think about it?”

“You have 24 hours. And you can’t tell a soul. Not even your wife.”

Derrick accepted. And it wasn’t until he wrote his book Surgeon Spy in 2016 that Martha Derrick was surprised to discover her husband’s secret life.

After serving as a courier for over 20 years, Derrick remembers the last package he ever delivered: “How they knew we were planning a trip to Italy, I’ll never know, but they called and said, ‘Package on the way.’ So, we traveled to Anzio and were visiting one of the art exhibits there. I was just looking at a mural on the wall when this major walks in. Seeing his nametag, I knew I had to deliver the package to him.

“He said, ‘I’ve been waiting on you!’”

Far from Home: Corbey Dukes ’84, M ’94

Alumni Profile: Corbey Dukes

As the director of Oasis, a residential refuge for abused girls in Guatemala, Dukes is determined to find justice for them — a home as well.

“TO SEE AN EIGHT-YEAR-OLD TESTIFY in court about —” Corbey Dukes pauses for a moment, the long-distance call falling silent, “just horrors. It’s overwhelming at times.”

The girls at Oasis are brave. Braver than anyone should have to be. And Dukes, the director of the residential program for sexually abused girls in Guatemala, witnesses their bravery every day.

After graduating from Clemson in 1984, Walter Corbett “Corbey” Dukes III and his wife Janie Stevenson ’84 began careers in engineering and nutrition, respectively. The couple eventually settled on Pawleys Island. During this time, Dukes worked a corporate job, earned his MBA from Clemson and was very involved in his church, which often hosted mission trips to Oasis. Dukes got to know the residential program and staff through these mission trips, and on one significant trip, he was surprised to learn that the current director was leaving. In 2009, Dukes and his wife found themselves back in Guatemala, this time with Corbey as director of Oasis and Janie managing nutritional needs.

As soon as he arrived, Dukes began building up Oasis’ staff of social workers and psychologists; more were needed to treat the depth of the girls’ trauma. Over time, the home’s capacity grew from one part-time social worker and one part-time psychologist for 36 kids to five full-time social workers and four psychologists for around 100 kids. Working without a background in psychology — or a lick of Spanish — Dukes remembers this early period as being particularly difficult:

“I’m not a psychologist,” he says. “When I got here, I was just trying to figure out what was going on. The biggest challenge was understanding why the kids were acting the way they were acting. Basically, I taught myself child psychology to figure out what system we needed to have here and the funding infrastructure needed to put that system in place.”

Girls are sent to Oasis under court order for protection and rehabilitation after being removed from abusive environments. The healing process is long and hard as are the investigation and judicial proceedings that follow. According to Dukes, the rate for a successful prosecution of a sex crime is 6 percent in Guatemala. To improve the chances of a better outcome, Oasis staff work with Guatemalan prosecutors and provide resources for thorough investigations. Above all, the girls courageously testify against their abusers in court — efforts that yield a 70 percent successful prosecution rate.

“It took us a year pounding the doors, getting the district attorneys to pay any attention to us,” Dukes says. “Everybody was saying, ‘You’re wasting your time. Nothing will happen. It’ll re-traumatize the girls, and the bad guys will come and kill you for revenge.’ None of that was true.

“The girls are always better on the other end of the justice system. They get their voice back. We get threats, but we’re all still here. Just because something looks hard and is dangerous, it’s not an excuse not to do it.”

Beyond working with the justice system, Dukes and his team have also been meeting with government officials to advocate for adjustments within Guatemala’s foster/adoption system that will help bridge the age gap between young children who are being adopted and older children who still desperately need families. The girls at Oasis range in age from five to 17, but most of them are adolescents. Placing traumatized, adolescent girls into families (whether it’s their biological, foster or adopted family) is difficult, requiring serious rehabilitation and preparation often for both parties. Oasis oversees this whole process and sometimes struggles to find appropriate placements for girls due to limited options. But the struggle is worth it. And Dukes isn’t giving up:

“These kids deserve what any kid deserves: to be heard, to be loved and to have a family.”

Road Bots: Lionel Robert M ’97

Alumni Profile: Lionel Robert

Lionel Robert poses among equipment at an on-campus robotics lab at the University of Michigan.

Robert is looking for answers to all of the questions surrounding autonomous vehicle technology.

LIONEL ROBERT is an associate professor of information at the University of Michigan, where he researches and collaborates with students on the relationship between technology and teamwork in modern society. Robotics and autonomous vehicles — AVs for short — are his specialty, which is why, when an AV struck and killed a pedestrian in Tempe, Arizona, on March 18, Robert suddenly found himself in high demand by the media.

The fatality occurred when a woman stepped out in front of a self-driving Uber. The AV failed to stop even with a safety driver, and Robert confirms that the AV’s lidar technology (like radar but using light rather than radio for detection and ranging) should have been able to detect the moving person and respond. But he also stresses that this tragedy is a result of multiple factors.

“We have to be careful to not oversell the technology,” he says. “Look, an autonomous vehicle is a vehicle. A vehicle weighs one or two tons and, moving at x amount of speed, cannot stop on a dime.”

There’s a widespread perception that autonomous vehicles will all but eradicate traffic problems and accidents on the road once they become commonplace. But Robert explains that figuring out how to program AVs and how to integrate them into society brings up one issue after another, many of which are counterintuitive.

“When we first started with the problem of autonomous driving, we thought it would be easy, and the reason why is because driving is a pretty explicit activity,” he says. “There are laws. There are fixed lines. It seems to be made for an algorithm, for artificial intelligence. But it turns out that driving is an incredibly social activity. No one follows the law when they drive.”

Should AVs be programmed to break traffic laws in order to avoid accidents or react to other drivers? Should urban infrastructure and roads be redesigned to accommodate AVs? Questions like these continue to arise as AVs become more of a reality. Robert believes it will take a lot of education and engagement of the general public to move forward with this kind of technology.

In the meantime, Robert is focusing on research with his students. One particular study they’re conducting uses virtual scenarios to explore the ways AVs might communicate with pedestrians.

“The thing about this research is that we’re doing something that people don’t know,” Robert says. “I tell students the answer isn’t in the back of the book; we’ve got to find out together.”

One for the Books: Megan Brown Clarke ’04

With a lot of hard work and long hours, Clarke rose in the ranks of the broadcasting industry.

Alumni Profile: Megan Brown Clarke

MEGAN CLARKE LEARNED TO GET ahead by raising her hand. At 22 years old, she began her career at Fox News as a greeter.

“I was thrown into this amazing, incredibly fast-paced environment interacting with celebrities and politicians,” Clarke says. “I was the first person they’d see when walking in the door.” Wanting to be a part of everything meant raising her hand for anything — breaking news, overnights and television specials.

“It was grueling,” she says. “The days were incredibly long.” Eventually, Clarke’s hard work paid off. Now at 35, she’s one of the youngest vice presidents ever at Fox News, where she leads the booking team. Her responsibilities include making sure sources and contributors are scheduled and prepared for being on air. For her success, she credits the early days of her career.

“You get to know the talent really well [in the greeter position],” Clarke says. “You also have to know the subject matter we’re covering. You’re constantly learning every day. It’s phenomenal.”

With cable news days running 24/7, Clarke says she rarely steps away from her iPhone. Mornings begin with a thorough news browsing session, which involves taking in 15 to 20 different news sites and flipping among all the morning news shows. “I’m like a sponge. I want to see what people have covered and compare that with what’s on my docket for the day,” she says.

Although the days are long, Clarke says she’s never once looked at the clock — 5 p.m. is just another hour of the day. “Our expectations as the No. 1 news network are very high,” she says. “We want to be the closest to the floor of an event or news story. We want to key up the best person on one side of the issue and get the other side of the issue so viewers are exposed to all viewpoints.”

Clarke’s no longer on the front lines of the station greeting guests and contributors, but she never fails to remember — or remind others — where she got her start: “When I was working at 1 a.m. in D.C. cleaning earpieces, I learned you’re never too good for any assignment.”

On Ozark: Kevin L. Johnson ’07

Alumni Profile: Kevin L. Johnson

Johnson left the shores of Hartwell Lake — not knowing how important another lake would become to him.

WHEN KEVIN L. JOHNSON LEFT the shores of Lake Hartwell after graduating, he had no idea how important another lake, the Lake of the Ozarks, might become to him.

The actor and Clemson alumnus has become a fan favorite on the critically acclaimed Netflix series Ozark. A sleeper hit last summer, the TV series returned for a second season on Aug. 31.

In Ozark, Jason Bateman and Laura Linney star as seemingly ordinary parents that move to a lakeside home with their kids in search of a simpler life. Blue skies, tall trees and the placid lake make things look picture perfect. But below the surface, it all gets darker. The Byrdes are no ordinary parents, and a nefarious past has followed them to their new life.

Johnson plays Sam Dermody, a real estate agent who finds the Byrdes their new nest in the Missouri Ozarks. Quirky and unassuming, Dermody appears oblivious to the criminal currents swirling all around him, pulling almost everyone into the wake.

“He’s a little eccentric. He’s a little naïve,” Johnson says of his character. Dominated by an overbearing mother, Dermody is working hard for respect and independence as the first season of Ozark unfolds.

Making a name

Johnson is an actor on the rise.

He landed a small part in the big film “American Made” with Tom Cruise in 2017. He also earned acting credits in the upcoming remake of the 1990 thriller “Jacob’s Ladder” and the independent heist film “American Animals,” which made its debut at the Sundance in January. Johnson also has a supporting role in the thriller “Don’t Look There,” now in post-production.

But his role as Dermody came with something new — recognition.

“I always use the word ‘surreal,’” he says. “It’s still surreal. Every now and again, people will recognize me at the mall.”

Though Ozark is set in Missouri, most of the filming takes place at Lake Allatoona in Georgia. Johnson, who is based in Atlanta, said the tremendous growth of filming Georgia has led to new opportunities: “There’s no reason to leave the Southeast right now, if you’re working on building a resume, in my opinion. It’s the best place to get started.”

Netflix has helped change entertainment in other ways, too. Each series episode has a cliffhanger, which tempts some viewers to binge watch an entire season in one or two days. The lack of commercials also allows more time to develop drama. “The content’s much deeper, richer, and you can do a lot more in each episode,” Johnson explains.

Speaking of episodes, Johnson comments on working with Jason Bateman, who directed some of Ozark’s episodes in season one. “As a director, he’s really down to earth,” Johnson says. “He’s a great actor’s director. He’s perfect at it.”

The second season started production in late November, and shooting lasted from January until May, according to Johnson. “It’s going to be lots of fun next season.”

Ozark: Kevin L. Johnson

Photo courtesy of Netflix

Orange and purple

At another lake in South Carolina, Lake Wylie, Johnson grew up in a Clemson family. “I bleed orange and purple,” he says. Early on, he knew Clemson was where he wanted to study. What to study was less clear. Starting out in computer science, Johnson ultimately graduated with an English degree, but he found a home in performing arts.

“When I got to school in the morning, I would always go to the Brooks theater,” Johnson says. “It was definitely like a second family.”

His path to acting began in a Clemson English class, when the students watched a play related to their curriculum. “I thought, ‘Oh man, that looks like a lot of fun,” he says.

Though his first audition at Clemson didn’t win him a role, Johnson still got involved in theater by working on a tech crew. Before long, he won the lead role as a different Sam — this time as the pickle-maker seeking a love match in “Crossing Delancey” — at the Clemson Little Theater.

In his first big musical role, Johnson starred as Willy Wonka in “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” also at the Clemson Little Theater.

“I didn’t realize I could sing, really, until college,” says Johnson.

Johnson’s mother had been a country singer, but he hadn’t tested his own voice until he checked out a cast recording of “Urinetown” from the library to prepare for an audition. “I was like, ‘Wait a minute, why didn’t I know that I could sing?’”

Kevin L. Johnson on Ozark

Photo courtesy of Netflix

Major revelations

Looking back at his Clemson years, Johnson recalls how much his trajectory changed during college.

His advice for students is to keep looking for new opportunities and experiences.

“After you arrive and start taking your classes, if it’s not what you are looking for, then switch majors,” he says. “Switch it up. That’s what I did.”

Johnson definitely switched it up as a student at Clemson. His first, small role in a Clemson production, a bit part in Seamus Heaney’s “The Burial at Thebes,” changed his life forever.

“It changed my whole outlook on what was going to happen in my life.”

All-Star Administrator: Beth Goetz ’96

Alumni Profile: Beth Goetz

From soccer player at Clemson to the chief operating officer at UConn’s Division of Athletics

“CHARACTER IS WHAT YOU HAVE when you think no one is watching. You have got to live and breathe it every day.”

Beth Goetz’s definition of character has served her well so far. From her time as a Clemson soccer player to her current position as chief operating officer of the University of Connecticut’s Division of Athletics, Goetz has become a force to be reckoned with in the world of intercollegiate athletics.

Goetz began her experience with college athletics as a soccer player, transferring from Brevard College to Clemson her junior year. Team captain for the women’s soccer team, she went on to earn her degree in psychology in 1996.

Grad school and coaching came next. While studying counseling at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, she coached the women’s soccer team to eight winning seasons. It wasn’t long before she became an assistant athletic director and the senior woman administrator for UMSL, setting aside her original plan to be a therapist. However, Goetz explains that her education in counseling and psychology has contributed to her success in athletics.

“I was calling my coaches at 23 saying, ‘What am I doing here?’” she says. “But once I got into it, I felt like I was making an impact on the athletes, which is what I would have been doing through counseling as well.”

After 12 years at UMSL, she moved on to positions at Butler University and the University of Minnesota, where her responsibilities and leadership gradually increased.

Her current role at UConn has her overseeing day-to-day operations as the sport administrator for football, softball and men’s soccer, Goetz focuses on building a team culture. “Athletics can teach and foster so many important things like commitment and time management, but it’s also about believing you can accomplish more as a team than you can as an individual,” she says.

While Goetz’s career has taken her around the country and to different colleges, she wants one thing clear: “I will always be a Tiger.” During her time at Butler, Goetz fondly remembers one game in 2009 when the Tigers and the Bulldogs went head to head in men’s basketball: “I went into the game thinking, ‘I can’t really lose here.’”

UPDATE: Since we wrote this story, Goetz has moved on to become the director of athletics at Ball State University earlier this year.