In Memoriam: Ian D. McLaren

For the last several months, my mother and I, with the help of many others, have been caring for my dad, Ian D. McLaren, who has been in his final months of life. He passed away on Saturday, May 10.
My dad’s life touched so many people, and anyone who has been influenced positively through me is an indirect beneficiary of his legacy.
We will have a small memorial service here in Florida this Wednesday, May 14, at Marco Cemetery, 489 West Elkham Circle, Marco Island, FL. Visitation will be from 10-11 am, followed by a memorial service at 11, with interment at 12. You’ll find more information (including directions for sending flowers, posting memories, etc.) here.
Because my dad had so many friends in Maryland, we’re planning a larger memorial service there July 27 at 7 pm at Cedar Ridge Community Church. Come with an appreciation, memory, or story about Ian to share.
Here is a tribute to my dad, Ian D. McLaren …

Ian Douglas McLaren was born on November 8, 1924. His father was Robert S. McLaren, a Scotland-born banker who emigrated to Ontario, Canada. He was affiliated with the Plymouth Brethren Christian movement, and while in Canada felt a call to missionary work.
Robert married Lydia Lee, also a member of Plymouth Brethren and a descendant of United Empire Loyalists whose family had a farm in Southern Ontario. Robert left Canada in 1934 to study jungle medicine in New York to prepare for life in Angola, Africa. From there, he and Lydia went to Scotland to missionary training school, and then to Portugal to study the colonial language, and from there they sailed to Angola.
Ian was born when his parents were on a furlough in Cass City, Michigan, making him an American citizen. He was delivered at home by a relative who was a horse and buggy doctor. He was the fourth of seven children: Grace, Robert, Gordon, Ian, Lydia, Eleanor, and Alec.
The family returned to Peso, Angola, where his father had built a home and formed a mission station. When he reached school age, Ian spent a year at Sakeji boarding school for missionary children in Zambia. The family then spent some time in Scotland, and then relocated to Simcoe, Ontario, and then to London, Ontario, where Ian’s parents ran a home for “The Soldiers and Airmen’s Christian Association.” During that time, Ian’s mother had a fall and struck her head. She had a number of health problems after that fall, and died in 1945.
When Robert Sr. returned to Africa, Ian and his siblings were self-sufficient. He finished high school in London, Ontario, and then went to University of Western Ontario, where he was a pre-med (BS) student and later a medical student, planning to be a surgeon. Robert later married Mary Robertson of Scotland, a Brethren missionary then serving in the Congo. She was devoted to Robert and his family for the rest of her life.
As a boy, Ian learned to play the violin and enjoyed music through his life, especially hymns. He didn’t feel “the call” to be a missionary, but felt he could serve God and others as a surgeon. As a young adult, Ian worked for Kellogg’s Cereal Company. He was fixing a machine when a colleague turned the machine on, severing his right thumb. The amputation meant that he would never be a surgeon, but the financial settlement helped pay his medical school tuition.
In 1944, at the age of 19, he was attending a Christian youth camp in Guelph, Ontario, where he met Virginia Belle Smith who was 17. They found themselves on the same team in game after game, to which he responded with a line from Shakespeare: “The fates have been kind.” Thus began a period of writing letters and arranging visits between London, Ontario, and Rochester, New York, where Ginnie lived.
They were married in 1950, a few days after Ian graduated from med school. Ian joined the Army and worked in public health in Korea and Japan during the Korean War. Ginnie traveled cross-country by train to Seattle and then sailed to Japan to join him.
After military service, Ian and Ginnie purchased a mobile home because they anticipated several years with frequent moves. They lived for about a year in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where Ian got a Masters Degree in Public Health from University of Pittsburgh. He then began working in public health for the State of New York, first in Binghamton and then in Olean, where he was county health commissioner.
In 1955, they bought a permanent home in Olean. There, Brian and Peter were born.
Ian then took a public health job in Rockford, Illinois, in 1961. In 1962, he became city health commissioner for Johnstown, New York. Then the family moved to Kensington, MD, in 1963. In 1964, they moved to Rockville, MD, and in the coming years, Ian worked for Montgomery County Public Health, DC General Hospital, Glen Dale Hospital, and the Veterans Administration. He retired from the VA in 1995.
Ian was a devoted doctor, taking his profession very seriously and enjoying it immensely. He attended continuing education conferences, and constantly listened to cassette tapes of medical lectures during his commutes to and from work. He loved his patients, was beloved by his colleagues and the medical staff with whom he worked, and was an excellent diagnostician.
He was no less devoted to his faith. He was active in local churches wherever he lived. In Maryland in the 1960’s, he helped organize the monthly Missionary Study Class which mobilized individuals from Plymouth Brethren churches to meet missionaries and to understand and support their work.
In the early 1970‘s, when “The Monday Night Fellowship” began and dozens of long-haired, barefoot teenagers started coming to the McLaren home for Bible study, prayer, and worship, Ian welcomed them. When the living room floor showed signs of sagging from the overflow crowds, he didn’t complain. He just installed a floor jack to bolster the sagging joists. Whether at New Hampshire Avenue Gospel Chapel, Rockville Community Bible Fellowship, Cedar Ridge Community Church, or other congregations he was part of, Ian made a mark as a hospitable, friendly, dedicated Christian man.
He started each meal with prayer and began each morning with a devotional guide and Bible reading at breakfast. He led sometimes lengthy family devotions at dinner for many years when his boys were small, to their benefit if not always to their enjoyment. He loved to sing hymns and choruses he had learned in his youth. Brian and Peter remember waking up to the sound of his singing in the bathroom as he shaved. They could tell which part of his face was being shaved by the pauses and inflections in his singing.
Ian was a devoted husband. He was grateful and polite, and he was quick to apologize when he made a mistake. He fulfilled the role of provider with enthusiasm and with equal enthusiasm appreciated Ginnie’s role as homemaker and devoted mother. He loved to sing and laugh and radiated energy and optimism.
As a father to Brian and Peter, Ian was a solid example, a consistent and fair disciplinarian, and a generous provider. To their delight, he also knew how to turn from work to fun. With good reason he earned the nickname among his nieces and nephews as “Uncle Picnic” because he loved to spontaneously organize picnics where there would be the scent of grilled hotdogs and hamburgers, the sight of frisbees flying, and the sound of softballs being caught in gloves. He loved campfires and roasting marshmallows, and was always quick to light candles for birthdays and special dinners.
He indulged Brian’s love of animals, taking him as a four-year-old to a pond near their home and helping Brian scoop up some frog eggs so he could watch the eggs hatch and tadpoles develop – right on the kitchen table. He allowed Brian to keep a succession of critters that eventually included a boa constrictor, chipmunks, and a baby raccoon, plus a succession of more conventional pets – cats like Tiger and Whitey, and a dog named Chip. When Brian was older and began playing music, Ian lent him the money to make his first album.
In the same way, he saw Peter’s interest in things more mechanical, making sure that Peter had the toys and gadgets that were most suited to his interests. At one point, he let Peter back an old Plymouth Valiant into the back yard, where Peter took apart and rebuilt the engine and sometimes Dad helped. Ian was always an encourager of learning, rewarding good grades with monetary pay and challenging his sons to pursue their interests and dreams. If there was a museum or historical site nearby, he made sure they visited. If there was a subject his sons wanted to learn about, he made sure they had the books, magazines, or lessons they needed.
He took the family camping each year. In the early years he’d load up the car with an old green canvas tent and a Coleman cook stove, or later, he’d hitch up a pop-up trailer. The family would head for the Adirondacks in New York, Shenandoah National Park in Virgina, or a succession of campgrounds along the old Route 301 and later Route 95 all the way to Florida. Around 1961, he discovered Marco Island, where he began renting condos or homes for an annual vacation. He loved to stand on a balcony or lanai and “survey his kingdom,” dreaming perhaps that someday he could live in such a beautiful place.
He was spontaneous and fun-loving. He loved to play in the water, whether in the surf at the beach, holding his nose and jumping into the pool, or renting canoes and traveling from lake to lake. He wouldn’t miss a chance to explore new places or set out on vacation – with or without a clear destination or reservations. He was a daredevil at heart – whether that meant riding his bike first slowly up and then quickly down a curvy mountain road in his sixties, or in his seventies renting a motor scooter to the great delight of his grandkids and the great concern of their parents.
In between vacation adventures, he launched lots of financial adventures – in real estate and especially in the stock market – buying low, selling high, learning about puts and calls, and subscribing to every investment newsletter he could get his hands on, some less reputable than others! Sometimes he met his investment goals and sometimes he didn’t, but he never tired of learning about promising stocks, anticipating bull or bear markets, fretting over whether to buy, sell, diversify, or hold. He also enjoyed gardening. His home-grown tomatoes, cucumbers, and zucchinis were legendary.
He briefly owned a vacation condo on Marco Island in the 1970’s, and he bought a vacation timeshare at Massanutten resort in Virginia. There he provided great lifelong memories for his seven grandchildren, just as he had for his two boys. Sons Brian and Peter remember jumping from their dad’s shoulders into Kerr Lake in Virginia or Rollins Pond in New York, and grandkids Rachel, Brett, Trevor, Jodi, Stephanie, Andrew, and Teaque remember riding bikes and frolicking in the pool with their grandpa at Massanutten, as well as at his own pool on Martin’s Lane in Lanham.
Speaking of homes, Ian bought or rented several in his adult life. After the mobile home, he owned a home in Olean, rented a home in Rockford, NY, rented a home in Karoga Lake, NY, owned a stately old home in Johnstown, NY, rented a home in Kensington, MD, owned a home on Russett Terrace in Rockville, moved to another home on Bitterroot Way in Rockville, moved to Martins Lane in Lanham to be closer to his sons and their families, and then moved to a townhouse on Winterfield Ct in Laurel. When he decided in 2012 to fulfill a long-time dream and live on Marco Island, his family’s only regret was that he didn’t move sooner and have a few more years to enjoy the sunshine, the beach, and the pool that he loved so much when his health was better.
His enjoyment of Marco Island was reflected in the name he chose first for a parakeet and later for a golden retriever, a puppy given to Ian on his retirement. Both were named Marco.
Ian loved holidays. He was seldom happier than when sitting at a table with family gathered around, enjoying a good roast-beef-and-potatoes holiday meal. He loved to be the one to distribute presents on Christmas. He was a kid at heart in many ways.
He stayed in touch with relatives on his side and his wife’s, and wherever there was a need, he’d have Ginnie write a check as an expression of love. Many people remember him slipping a ten or twenty dollar bill in their hands, with the words, “Here’s a little love-gift for you.” He was a generous man to family, friend, or stranger.
Ian was famous for messing up names of places and people. Tigertail Beach for him was Fisthtail, and after a while, everyone gave up correcting him.
His favorite foods were bacon, oatmeal, pancakes, eggs, bacon, rice, salmon patties, bacon, minestrone soup, anything with lots of gravy, pepper, and hot sauce, and did I say bacon? … plus any kind of dessert, especially key lime pie and cookies.
He loved Billy Graham and had a soft spot for TV preachers. He loved gospel music by the Gaithers and George Beverley Shea, and his favorite hymns included Face to Face, When I Survey, Jesus Paid It All, and I’d Rather Have Jesus. He might break into song spontaneously just about any time and any place. In fact, it’s not hard to imagine him crooning out a song of praise right at this moment.
Ian loved life. For most of his life he was a morning person, not wanting to miss a single minute of each new day. About a year before he died, he had an appointment with a new cardiologist. The first words out of his mouth were, “Can you get me fifteen more years of life?” He loved to sing about heaven, but he was in no hurry to leave his life on earth.
Ian survived a serious heart episode and a serious aortal aneurysm repair in the early 2000’s. He was frail, but regained his strength and enjoyed over ten years of independent living after his recovery. In late 2013, he developed a wound on his right foot that wouldn’t heal. It was the result of a blocked femoral artery which was irreparable and which, together with advancing vascular disease throughout his body, led to his decline in health in late 2013. He entered hospice care in March 2014, moved into assisted living later that month, and died peacefully in his apartment on May 10, 2014.
He leaves behind his beloved wife, Ginnie, to whom he was married for one month shy of 64 years; his sons Brian and Peter and daughters-in-law Grace and Karen; seven grandchildren – Rachel (and Jesse), Brett (and Breana), Trevor (and Owen), Jodi, Stephanie, Drew, and Teaque, and four great-grandchildren – Averie, Mia, Ella, and Lucas. As well, he leaves hundreds of others whom he loved dearly and who loved him dearly. He was a “second father” or “surrogate grandfather” to countless people through the years.
When the apostle Paul contemplated his own death in 2 Cor. 5:4, he wrote: “For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.”
“Swallowed up by life” is a great phrase on which to meditate regarding Ian’s passing … not life passing away into death, but mortal life being swallowed up by an even bigger, greater, deeper, more wondrous and glorious life. As Jesus said it (Luke 20:38), “To God, all are alive.” It is in that larger and unending life of God that we now imagine Ian set free, rejoicing, and even more fully alive.
Many whose lives were touched by Ian’s life are posting expressions of love and gratitude on my Facebook page, here.
You can see my daughter Rachel’s tribute here.