Alumnus, trustee, mentor and inspiration
Joseph P. Clayton, a self-described “poor young kid from the hills of Bardstown” who became an international leader in telecommunications innovation and a trustee and lifelong supporter of his alma mater, Bellarmine University, died on Nov. 3.
Over four decades in the consumer electronics, telecommunications and satellite communications industries, including terms as the president and CEO of DISH Network and as CEO and chairman of Sirius Satellite Radio Inc., Mr. Clayton was instrumental in the discovery and implementation of consumer electronic innovations including the VCR, DVDs, satellite TV, HDTV and satellite radio.
He credited his Bellarmine liberal arts and business education with his ability to think on his feet and talk to anyone about most anything. His generosity established the Joseph P. and Janet A. Clayton Field in Owsley B. Frazier Stadium, as well as Piazza Clayton just outside Our Lady of the Woods Chapel, which he gifted in memory of his father, Paul. Mr. Clayton also established an endowed fund that provides full scholarships to Bellarmine for first-year students from his hometown.
As a Bellarmine trustee, he helped to steer the university through a period of transformational growth, and he was especially proud of his contribution as a member of the search committee that selected the university’s fourth president, Susan M. Donovan, Ph.D.
“Joe Clayton was a part of everything at Bellarmine,” Dr. Donovan said. “The Bellarmine campus wouldn’t be what it is today without his incredible support. Not just through our physical space, and not just through his leadership as a trustee and distinguished graduate. It lives in the legacy of so many students and alumni who have now moved on to become educators, librarians, business people and leaders in their communities. It is a legacy that will continue forever.”
Mr. Clayton started out as an accounting major, but shifted to business administration. During his undergraduate years, he was a member of student government and played in the campus band. In 1968, he pledged the Alpha Delta Gamma fraternity and helped to resurrect Bellarmine’s all-but-dormant Xi Chapter. By 1971, when he graduated, the fraternity was actively engaged in all of campus life.
“That tradition continues today,” said Ian Patrick, Bellarmine’s assistant vice president for Development and ADG chapter advisor. “Whenever Joe was recognized individually he always invited tables full of ADG alumni to celebrate with him and his family. Joe’s ADG brothers remain in touch and still travel together, meet in person around multiple events, and have lifelong friendships.” Mr. Clayton served as vice president of expansion on the National Board in 1973 and was co-steward of the 1974 convention in Chicago. He was named the ADG Alumnus of the Year in 2015, and was incredibly proud when Bellarmine’s Xi Chapter earned the National Chapter of the Year in 2016.
As a first-year student, Mr. Clayton also spun Motown hits and other songs of the day on Bellarmine Campus Radio, which broadcast on carrier current through AC electrical wiring to all eight buildings on campus—a far cry from the 50 million listeners who would one day tune in to Sirius XM. His show was called The Bourbon Hour, a nod to his upbringing in the Bourbon Capital of the World, where his father was a liquor retailer and he worked in distilleries in the summer and on holidays.
“I didn’t know anything about the technical stuff; I just had fun putting on the headphones and talking into the microphone,” Mr. Clayton once said.
After graduating magna cum laude, he earned his Master of Business Administration in marketing and management from Indiana University, where he sat on the Dean’s Advisory Board for the Indiana School of Business. From there, he became a trainee at RCA in New York, and, he said, his career “just took off.”
In addition to working at DISH and Sirius, Mr. Clayton was president of Global Crossing North America, president and CEO of Frontier Corporation, and executive vice president of marketing and sales for the Americas and Asia of Thomson S.A. He was also a four-year member of the EchoStar Board of Directors and a former chair of the Consumer Electronics Association. He was inducted into the Consumer Electronics Hall of Fame in 2008.
At Bellarmine, he is one of just four alumni who have been honored at Knight of Knights. He received an honorary doctorate in 2016; was the Alumnus of the Year in 1996; and is a member of the Gallery of Distinguished Graduates and the T. William Samuels Jr. Kentucky Business Legends Hall of Fame.
As a member of the Bellarmine Board of Trustees, he served as a member of the Executive Committee and chair of the Development Committee.
In 2000, he established the Mary Agnes Dugan Clayton Endowed Scholarship, which supports full tuition, room, board, and activity fees annually to an incoming first-year student from Bethlehem High School in Bardstown. The intent of this grant is to honor and pay tribute to his mother, Mary Agnes Dugan Clayton, by affording students of his hometown the opportunity to receive a liberal arts education of distinction as he did at Bellarmine University.
In February 2015, Bellarmine University rechristened the School of Communication building “Joseph P. Clayton Hall” – the first time in its history that the university had named a building in honor of an alumnus. At the public event celebrating the renaming, Mr. Clayton exhibited his trademark directness and his firm belief that hard work leads to success. “If a poor young kid from the hills of Bardstown can accomplish these things, so can you,” he told cheering students.
He praised Bellarmine for preparing him to be “an international citizen” and emphasized the importance of communication. "A lot of great ideas failed in the past because they were not properly communicated,” he said.
In addition to his wife, Janet, Mr. Clayton is survived by daughters Megan Stovall (Matthew), Kelly Herr (Brock), Kathleen Reitz (Andy), and Molly; son John Paul; grandchildren Samuel, Abigail, William and Lucas Paul; brother Mike Clayton (Leigh Ann); and sister Ellen Willett (Jerry).
Visitation will be from 3 to 8 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 8, in Knights Hall at Bellarmine. The funeral will be 11 a.m. Friday, Nov. 9, at Basilica of St. Joseph Proto-Cathedral in Bardstown, with burial immediately to follow at St. Joseph.