Todd Mclelland was a teacher, gardener, sailor, husband, father and more. 'He was one of the good ones,' said his wife Janet. That's Todd and his wife, Janet, at their wedding. October 4th, 1986.
An Untold Life: Todd McClelland
By Maggie Nicholson
EDITORS NOTE: This is a first in a weekly series of stories that feature members of the West Seattle community who have passed away, and who, in their lives, cast great shadows and touched many local hearts.
Todd McClelland was a gardener. In spring, he watched the birth of bulbs from the earth. He and his wife Janet embraced and gazed at the dahlias in autumn. And in winter, there was the promise of growth to come.
Todd grew vegetables with his grandparents, Nadia and Elmer, between rickety wooden garden fences at the white home they owned on Dakota Street. Elmer was a deliveryman of business supplies, and Nadia stayed at home to raise her son, Tom.
Tom worked at a furniture store on California Avenue. Tom and Todd often went bird watching together. Todd especially loved to find hawks.
Tom, Elmer and Todd all lived and worked in West Seattle. They felt West Seattle had all they could want and need. It was close to a big city, but had the feel of a small town.
Todd began working at the Fauntleroy Children’s Center when he was sixteen. He knew he wanted to work with children, and worked with them the rest of his life. He met his wife, Janet, at the Center, when they were in their teens. She was also a teacher there, and they married soon after, in their early twenties, in the small church right across from the school.
Todd was a creative and passionate teacher. He played jazz for his students, taught them chess and filmmaking, and took them exploring and adventuring in the green woods of Fauntleroy to run and play Robin Hood.
Ten big classrooms compose the wing in which he taught at the school, which was founded in the late 70’s. Mayor Greg Nickels’ son and daughter were among those in the community taught by Todd.
As a father, his love for his own children was unbound and bright. He never missed an event at their school or in extra-curriculars, not even as his illness grew. Janet and Todd raised their children, Riley and Katie, in the same house that Todd grew up in. They built an apartment downstairs so that Todd’s mother, Linda, could live with them. Todd and Janet painted the walls and burned fresh wood-fires in their brick chimney. Their favorite, white birch trees, surrounded the home.
“He was one of the good ones,” said Janet. “I was so, so lucky.”
When he was young, Todd was outgoing and charismatic. As he grew older, he remained charming, but shied and grew introverted. In his illness, he never lost patience or grace. He did not complain or grow bitter in loss. He retained joy for life and for all of the beauty it had offered him.
When his sister, Hope, got married, he and Janet flew down south to celebrate. His brother in law and cousin went swimming in the ocean before the wedding. Todd watched from the beach.
“Go in,” cried Janet happily, tugging his shirtsleeve.
Todd relented, taking off his shirt, digging his feet into the warm sand and diving for the sea. Just as he dove, the tide swept backward, and when he landed, it was flat on his stomach on the golden ground. A group of diners looked on from a nearby beach-restaurant, forks mid-air. Instead of getting embarrassed or upset, Todd stood up, wiped the sand from his legs and took a deep and steady bow for the on-looking diners, who clapped and laughed.
Todd read avidly, especially during his illness, devouring anything he could find on Celtic adventure. He also kept a personal journal, which he intermixed with small and intimate poems.
Todd loved the water: sailing, salmon-fishing, cooking seafood and spending summers with Janet and her parents on the coasts of San Juan. In the summer of this year, his family members will gather together to toss his ashes into the blue waters of San Juan. They will remember him as he was: a bright light in a vast world.
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