By Jane Bartnett
For Siesta Key’s own resident artist and forever beach boy who made the island his canvas, it was a fitting final tribute.
On the evening of Oct. 9, Shawn McLoughlin’s family and friends came together in numbers more than 100 strong at Siesta Beach to give a fond farewell. It was a true celebration of 68 years of a life well-lived, the past 50 of which Siesta Key enjoyed his many contributions.
McLoughlin died Sept. 12 after a year-plus battle with pancreatic cancer.
A large framed photo of Shawn, who was also known as Siesta Shawn, wearing a Siesta Key baseball hat with the beach in the background, graced the platform at the Sea Turtle Pavilion and captured his warm smile.
As the gathering began, the sounds of steel drums and pans filled the air as Shawn’s friend Dave Naumann, better known as Captain Dave Panman, played the Caribbean, pop and Floridian island songs that bring back happy memories of days at the beach. Friends embraced, laughed and cried as they spoke of their old friend.
Shawn’s sons, Robbie and Ryan McLoughlin, created a small display of their father’s paintings.
“We brought the paintings to give to his friends,” said Robbie. After speaking with a woman who came to offer her condolences and reminisce about his father’s unsuccessful attempts to teach her to paint clouds, he presented her with an original Shawn McLoughlin beach scene.
Through her tears, she said “Shawn would say, just take the brush and paint this way,” as he created a perfect cloud.
“My clouds never looked like his,” she said, admiring the Siesta Beach landscape with those perfect clouds.
As the music paused, Shawn’s nephew Josh Wynne took the microphone and spoke of his uncle.
“He loved travel, adventure and meeting people. He had a lust for life and loved being a father, uncle and grandfather,” he said, choking back tears.
Wynne added that “Shawn was always there with a smile and that infectious laugh when you needed it most.”
Calling his uncle a “remarkable human,” Wynne said that Shawn McLoughlin found true happiness in talking to people, painting on the beach and sharing his art.
Ryan McLoughlin recalled his father’s battle with cancer and the difficulty that he faced in fighting the disease that took his life. He told the gathering that he finds solace in knowing that his father is now free of pain and “filled with joy.”
In his final days, Ryan said, Shawn found the strength to complete his last artistic project. That project, Ryan told the gathering, was a children’s picture book called The ABC’s of Siesta Key, illustrated by Shawn McLoughlin. A publication of the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce, the book was a project that was dear to Shawn’s heart. It was, he believed, a gift that he was leaving to his own family and the many families who treasure their days on Siesta Key, as he did.
Ann Frescura, executive director of the chamber, told the group that the book became “Shawn’s legacy.”
Frescura said that when she first approached Shawn about illustrating the book he accepted it immediately with the same enthusiasm and spirit that he brought to all of his work.
“This book was special for Shawn. He lit up when we talked about it and he was so enthusiastic, so precise in his work,” she said. “He truly gave it his all.”
In the early months of 2021, Shawn was hopeful that the major surgery that he had undergone would allow him to have a healthy life and more time. The book project gave him great hope. As the months went by, Shawn began to lose his battle. Determined to finish and despite his failing health, Shawn bravely worked to completed his project, applying the final touches only days before his death.
As the sun began to set, Frescura introduced a special video presentation of the book that was shown on a large screen, marking its official debut. As page after page of the letters of the alphabet appeared on the screen alongside Shawn’s whimsical illustrations of Siesta Key, his friends and family admired the beauty of the book.
The ABC’s of Siesta Key book will be on sale at the upcoming Siesta Key Crystal Classic International Sand Sculpting Festival, held Nov. 12 to 15 on Siesta Beach. It will also be available at the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce office and at other select locations.
As seen through the eyes of the artist known as Siesta Shawn, the story of Siesta Key, its people, and the island’s natural beauty, will live on.