By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
Her community-advocacy work was intense and serious – yet Delridge community activist Vivian McLean was also known for her whimsy.
After almost two hours of tributes – from politicians, from neighbors, from family – her memorial this afternoon at Delridge Community Center, 16 days after her death at age 90, ended with a round of “The Hokey-Pokey” (video*).
Though our view didn’t include every single member of the standing-room-only crowd, participation looked universal. That would have included King County Executive Dow Constantine, former Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels, City Council President Richard Conlin, City Councilmembers Jean Godden, Nick Licata, and Tom Rasmussen, County Councilmember Joe McDermott, and Deputy Mayor Darryl Smith. And neighborhood luminaries too numerous to name (Steve Daschle of Southwest Youth and Family Services emceed). Even Jim Diers, the former Department of Neighborhoods director renowned for his evangelization of “Neighbor Power!” was on hand; Diers is the one who urged mourners, “Let’s keep her spirit alive.”
There didn’t seem to be much likelihood Ms. McLean will ever be forgotten. And not just because you can see her legacy at places such as Vivian McLean Place, the apartments over Delridge Library, which she fought for, or in other projects by Delridge Neighborhoods Development Association – which she helped create. It’s the people on whom she has left such a mark, that will continue to tell her story, and carry her work forward.
Speaker after speaker shared vivid memories of the woman who embraced so strongly the community where she had lived since 1948. Before Deputy Mayor Smith read a proclamation declaring today to be “Vivian McLean Day,” one of her four children – son Bruce McLean – shared personal stories of growing up with his mom. She nurtured others, too – not just the schoolchildren with whom she worked as an educator for so many years, but also other activists, and those who chose to move into the political realm. “Vivian adopted me for a little while,” recalled Council President Conlin. “She was incredibly tenacious.”
Conlin, it should be noted, was the only non-West Seattle-residing politician to speak, but that was a reminder that Ms. McLean’s reputation was known off-peninsula too.
County Executive Constantine lauded her for the “perspective” she provided, recalling her as “extraordinary.”
Former Mayor Nickels said Ms. McLean had decided early in his political career that he “was worth betting on” – and once he was elected to the King County Council in the ’80s, “she contacted me by letter and phone (often) to let me know how I was doing.”
Back in the day, Nickels said, “there were three people (I learned) you never say no to – one of them is here in this room today, Margaret Ceis – (also, the late) ‘Bert’ Weeks … and Vivian McLean.”
Other community activists offered eulogies as well. From the back of the room, Alexandra Pye, explaining to the crowd that she is using a wheelchair now, nonetheless stood up from it to tell her story of seeing Ms. McLean dancing, just a few years ago. Lucy Gaskill, a West Seattleite active with the Seattle League of Women Voters, said Ms. McLean epitomized what someone in her organization strives to be.
And her activism stretched well into her later life. White Center Food Bank volunteer coordinator Audrey Zemke shared the story of a phone call two years ago in which Ms. McLean said she wanted to “help out” – which, subsequently, she did. “She taught me that life is about living today.”
A montage of photos and tributes (put together by Shayla Simoes of SWYFS) visually told the story of highlights during Ms. McLean’s life – including her advocacy for Longfellow Creek and other greenspaces. (You can click through the slides below.* Some of the tributes came from comments left on the WSB story about her death on March 24th.)
And since she was known for her poetry, it was only fitting that – as was done during her 90th birthday celebration last fall (WSB coverage here) – some of her poems were read.
Sandy Adams read “The Healing Tree.” Margaret Ceis read “Walk Out Tall.” Susan Harmon read a poem with lines of inspiration, including “Speak up; do not try to hide.” A similar theme graced “A Giraffe Is Born” – as in, sticking your neck out – read by Pete Spalding, who prefaced the reading with a memory: Once he took on a leadership role in Pigeon Point, the neighborhood where Ms. McLean had long lived, “seldom a week went by without a message from (her), something she noticed on a walk, something (she had decided that) I now needed to take care of!” Pablo Lambinicio read, “Have I Told You Lately That I Care?”
And then, there was Jim Diers. “Vivian is the kind of activist we should all aspire to be. As the mayoral proclamation read toward the start of the memorial – it declared Vivian McLean made Seattle “a richer and better place.”
*Hokey-Pokey video by Karrie Kohlhaas, who also uploaded the tribute montage PowerPoint to Scribd so it could be embedded here and elsewhere.