John Clemens' Tribute
To Bill Cleary

A Personal Tribute to William S. Cleary

July 2, 1938 - July 4, 2002

William S. Cleary was a  friend who lived, as I did, at Topanga Beach, California, in the 1960s and 1970s and after the State Park bulldozers left their mark on the Topanga Beach sands, when there was nothing left but memories, kept the Topanga Beach fires going in Ireland, Costa Rica, New Zealand, Australia, and wherever he traveled.


John Clemens at Bill's Memorial.
Photo by Rick Hodgson

Bill Cleary was more than a talented writer, more than an editor, or good photographer. He was a person who made you interested in yourself, and left you inspired by the possibilities. I wasn't his closest friend, nor his greatest friend, but I was a friend inside the magnetic circle of his personality. He was, for me, the dream, the great extension, the strings of life, the grand search. If I represented the roots at Topanga Beach, our golden stretch of youth, he was the rover, the roaming gypsy, always leaving and always returning. Always writing and always reminding me the call that was out there, the life that squirmed in it's delicious mysteriousness. 

"Kepsi pipes filled with Moroccan oranges"; trilobites and land with bananas trees on the beach, for sale! at Byron Bay, Australia;  house filled with illegal green plants, Kailua-Kona; 6 to 8 foot waves, offshore winds, 4 people out…Come visit us Juanito, come visit.  And when I finally, agonizingly, uprooted my Topanga Beach possibilities,  and climbed aboard a bird to fly I sent back same, from Brasil, New Zealand, Tahiti, the Republic of Tonga.

He inspired all of us, his friends and companions, tantalizing us with the hopes and possibilities of the search, proving that he was ahead of the great rush of time, reminding that we should be too. But he was successful in ways one could only dream, finding the best places, the right times, good friends, the nicest wives and lovers… so much that when I tried I could only idealize the search: the perfect Topanga Beach, offshore winds, warm laughing days, friends gathering at the point watching the sun go down.

He was the one who wrote "we've been thinking about you Juanito, come visit. Sadly I never did.  Sadly I never quite made it.

Once you are out there you want to, you need to…keep going. I  was always looking for that magical place, the same neighborhood of friends, the surfing point break, the row of old houses on a small road next to the sea, a warm loving ocean rumpled by endless waves. This was the Topanga Beach dream, and as I searched for it I realized the hardest part to create would be the people. Especially this one person. He was our center, our image. Like myself, he was not a perfect person, but he was a flame, and like moths to a candle we cherished the flame. And like all flames it finally flickered and was gone. We are left with many small flames, eternal memories of a special time and a special person.

This is farewell my traveling friend.  I'm grateful to have been included in your company. You have settled down, but the dream never settles down.

© John Clemens, 2002 - All Rights Reserved