The gathering Saturday afternoon at the heart of small-town Los Olivos was certainly one Charlotte Rose McNeil MacLean would have enjoyed, complete with bright-colored clothing and hats, Scottish kilts and uplifting music.
Family and friends of the 19-year-old Santa Ynez Valley native fittingly surrounded themselves with everything MacLean loved during an hours-long celebration of the young life tragically lost when she was killed Aug. 3 in a traffic accident near Solvang.
Clipboards pinned with photographs, poems and songs written in honor of the promising young artist adorned the fences Saturday at Campbell Park in Los Olivos, where more than 100 people gathered to remember why they so loved the spunky teenager who had a big heart, charitable spirit and well-known colored Converse shoe collection.
Some members of the Santa Ynez Valley Jazz Band came home from college specifically to play several tunes in tribute to MacLean, who had been a member of the ensemble since she was 4.
After playing “Proud Mary” and “Moondance” — MacLean’s all-time favorite — MacLean’s friend, Caitlyn Ceder, took a moment to remember how music had always helped her friend right even the toughest of days.
“Both of us sort of were prone to have bad days,” said Ceder, noting that the band would play “You Raise Me Up” in tribute. “To Charlotte, you raise me up.”
Teresa McNeil MacLean and Doug MacLean looked on emotionally as a rendition of the Beatles’ classic “Blackbird” was also played to honor their daughter. The song served as a slight silver lining and reminder that the recently created Charlotte Rose McNeil MacLean "Blackbird" Fund has raised nearly $10,000 to help troubled teens.
Neither of MacLean’s parents spoke, although both asked family friends to relay their thanks and gratitude for the support of so many others who also still grieve.
Steve Jacobson, a family friend, told attendees they were gathered for a celebration of life, although feeling sorrow for MacLean’s death was also understandable.
“Charlotte’s life ended far too soon, far too suddenly and in a way that doesn’t make sense,” Jacobson said. “It is and forever will be a profound shock and tragedy.”
A family friend read from a letter of memories that MacLean’s mother had compiled since her daughter’s passing.
In the letter, Teresa McNeil MacLean described her daughter as a sometimes blue-haired kindred spirit, a hiker and musician who could play the guitar, violin, piano and saxophone.
MacLean’s favorite movie was the Wizard of Oz, she was proud of her Scottish heritage and she was on her way to helping others, the letter said.
MacLean had written several songs — none yet recorded — and had been in the middle of writing a book about Asberger’s syndrome, a development disorder MacLean had been diagnosed with last year.
After another touching musical tribute, guests were invited to a brief reception before returning to the park, where they were allowed an opportunity to share anything else that might help better celebrate MacLean’s short life.
MacLean, who was enrolled at Santa Barbara City College, was fatally injured Aug. 3 when she was thrown from the bed of a pickup truck that crashed on Ballard Canyon Road.
Five other people were seriously injured, and the 16-year-old driver was arrested on manslaughter charges.