I’ve decided – at least in the first draft – to start my book on John McLaren with his death.
That may seem a little odd but the thing I find most remarkable about him is how much he was loved by the people of San Francisco when he was, after all, only a gardener. Somehow it feel right to start with the send-off and then track back his story to see how this unassuming Scot became “the best loved man in San Francisco.”
He was also called the city’s “No.1 citizen” by none other than San Francisco’s mayor, a “great genius” in a formal resolution of the California Senate, and a whole host of other extraordinary things by the newspapers and by ordinary citizens. In fact it may be a struggle to cover all the heartfelt tributes paid to this man when he died without it feeling over-the-top.
There are however two images that show the depth of gratitude that the city showed him when he died. The first is an image of his funeral procession through Golden Gate Park – the park he built from scratch – a long line of cars and his men – 400 gardeners – lining the path with their hats doffed. It’s an extraordinary image of solemn respect that is so rarely given to anyone (can you even imagine this happening at your own funeral?).
And the second is an image of his lying in state in San Francisco’s City Hall – again, a very rare honour that, I believe, has only ever been given to deceased mayors (I wish the City Hall’s historians would get back to my repeat requests for information). But it was taken a step further and the hall was filled and decorated with plants (“The rotunda of the City Hall became an arbor yesterday,” reported the SF Chronicle) as another way of commemorating him.
This is all remarkable stuff and I feel it should be right up front. My current plan in writing the book is then to move from this sign and symbol of how revered this man was to an interview with him that was published after his death that showed who he was in his own words, and his reflections on his life, and his hard-fought-for philosophies, before leaping back in time and over the Atlantic to explore his decision to leave his beloved Scotland and sail to America – the New Land – via New York and across the Panama Isthmus to the epicenter of the world at that time, San Francisco.
It should be quite a journey.