White Rock theatre costumer and set decorator extraordinaire Pat McClean, who fought a long but private battle with cancer, will be remembered publicly at a celebration of life on Saturday, Jan. 27, 2-4 p.m. at Coast Capital Playhouse.
McClean died Jan. 13 at the age of 75.
She is survived by her son Johnny and daughter Cindy, her grandchildren, and a wider family of friends both inside and outside of the local theatre community.
Born in Halifax, N.S., McClean came to Vancouver at the age of three.
Most of her working life she lived in Victoria, but “her first love was always the theatre,” said daughter Cindy Mackay, who added that McClean had been a keen dancer from an early age and had once considered a career in ballet.
A fixture in Lower Mainland community theatre circles for her passionate and tireless work behind the scenes on countless productions since she moved to the Semiahmoo Peninsula in 1988, she was the recipient of many Community Theatre Coalition and Theatre BC awards, and was also active with the latter organization.
The theatre where she will be honoured – home of the White Rock Players Club – often seemed like a second home for McClean, who served the club in many capacities over the years, including administrator and board member through some difficult times of internal politics and division.
A post on the Players Club website notes that “she was a good friend to many and was not afraid to ask difficult questions.”
“She was also very protective of our club and the legacy of our founding members,” the post adds.
Among her tasks for the club was serving as project manager for the mural celebrating Players Club history on the south wall of the theatre, painted by Elizabeth Hollick, completed in 2014 with the help of a city grant, and she was also a member of White Rock’s cultural advisory committee.
“She was a tremendous supporter of the community and the arts community in particular,” Mayor Wayne Baldwin said, paying tribute to McClean during the Jan. 15 city council meeting.
“She did a great service to us all through her work with the Players Club and on the advisory committee.”
Outside of White Rock, she had also generously contributed her time and talents to productions in New Westminster and in helping bring back Surrey Little Theatre when it was in danger of closing its doors a decade ago.
Passionate about boosting production values and the physical look of shows, she was knowledgeable about Players Club resources, and was tireless in volunteering help to productions – and likely had a hand in the costumes and physical look of many a play for which she never received direct credit.
But not the least of her productions was herself – with her keen eye for clothing, colour and fabrics, McLean could always be counted on to dress the part at galas and parties, whether the occasion called for elegance, glitz, or comedy.
“She always looked like a million bucks,” commented Coun. Lynne Sinclair following the council meeting, noting that she had last seen McClean at a gala at a Coast Capital Playhouse in the fall.
“She was truly one of the most elegant women I knew,” commented Jacqollyne Keath, treasurer of Theatre BC.
“She was such a vibrant woman,” said Players Club president Fred Partridge, who noted that club members were stunned Saturday as they learned of McLean’s passing.
“Everybody at the theatre – their heads were just reeling,” he said, acknowledging that McClean let very few people know the state of her health. “To lose her so suddenly is a shock.”
McClean’s devotion to her craft also took a toll, he said, recalling her long hours at the theatre putting finishing touches to costumes and sets.
“She’d beat herself up to get a show done,” he said. “I couldn’t think of anybody who contributed so much to the club – nobody was more devoted to it than Pat.”
Aleta Peterson, treasurer and front of house director for the Players Club, said McClean had encouraged her to put her name forward for the board.
“She had a passion for wanting to do things well,” she remembered, noting she had been among the few who knew that McClean was ailing.
“She’d reached out to me before Christmas asking me if I’d help her family put together a memorial at the theatre. She knew she wasn’t doing too well.”
Keath remembered McClean “as quite the dynamic and feisty lady,” recalling happy times during Theatre BC. Mainstage festivals when the two would scour second hand shops together “looking for that special costume piece.”
“She taught a lot of us the tricks of the trade in set decoration and faux painting. She was quite the seamstress, as we all know.”
Keath said she’d also gotten to know the less public, more family side of McClean.
“She loved her family and spoke of her son Johnny and daughter Cindy frequently. She cherished all the grand babies too.”
“Pat was always there when you needed her,” said Wendy Bollard, artistic director of Peninsula Productions.
“She was a fountain of knowledge and advice and never said no to any request. She was a dear friend and she will be greatly missed.”