While Peter Lawlor is no doubt playing his melodeon somewhere in the Great Beyond, friends of his gathered at the Sea Biscuit Bakery Saturday Aug. 20 to recall stories about a true Whidbey character who passed away Aug. 2, 2021.

Peter Lawlor, his late wife Valentine, daughters Gretchen and Deb, on the slopes. Photo shared by Gretchen Lawlor

Peter’s daughter Gretchen Lawlor organized a memorial for her father, a New Zealand merchant mariner, ski instructor, poet and musician, who moved to South Whidbey in 2000. Singing with the Shifty Sailors, publishing poetry, and performing for 16 years at the Mukilteo Coffee Roasters, whose restaurant is now the Sea Biscuit Bakery, Peter was Langley’s poet laureate. Flowers from friends’ gardens, photos of Peter in his earlier days, and Gretchen’s paper machè art comprised an altar to remember the man with the halo of white hair who always loved an audience.

Flowers, photos, and paper machè art at Peter Lawlor’s memorial. Photo by Kate Poss
Peter Lawlor and his daughter Gretchen Lawlor sing ditties at Mukilteo Coffee Cafe in the Woods in August 2020. Photo by David Welton

At Saturday’s gathering, Gretchen—who moved to Mexico last year following her dad’s passing—and was back visiting the island—greeted friends and shared stories of her new life these days: visiting hot springs, teaching paper machè art classes, and getting to know the street sounds of a magical Mexican village. She said medical care is good there, waits for doctors are minimal, and costs inexpensive.

Gary and Beth Smith, owners of Mukilteo Coffee Roasters, stopped by Peter’s gathering and chatted with visitors. Gary once said Peter was like a father to him and queued his cell phone with videos of Peter’s most memorable concerts at his cafe. Gretchen set the phone on Peter’s altar and there was Peter alive again, playing a poignant version of Auld Lang Syne.

Gary Smith takes a poignant moment to remember the good times with Peter Lawlor, a man “who was like my dad.” Here Gary visits Peter at a party 8 days before Peter passed away. Photo by David Welton

Fred Lundahl of Langley’s Music for the Eyes seemed to appear at the moment Peter appeared on Gary Smith’s phone. Fred and Peter shared a common interest in playing the concertina and became friends in 2004. In a previous story, Fred told of the time he flew Peter to Victoria B.C. in his plane and took him to a music shop where Peter fell in love with a melodeon. Peter eventually came to own it and played tunes on Saturdays at Gary and Beth’s popular cafe. 

At Peter’s memorial this year, Fred brought out his concertina and played an homage to his friend: Fred Lundahl plays Auld Lang Syne

On an August morning two years ago, Peter sang some of his tunes. It was the summer of his 99th year.

“I love this instrument,” Peter had said then, and recited a poem he made up: “I’m 98 on the way to heaven’s gate. When I’m 99, I’ll be just fine.”

White-haired man in striped shirt plays harmonica
Poet and 90+ years’s young Peter Lawlor entertains with a sailor’s tune to welcome our Gray whales at a Welcome the Whales Parade years ago. Photo by David Welton

Reminisce here with scenes of Peter’s life with these stories and David Welton’s photos: Now is the Hour, Peter Lawlor in his 99th year, and Peter Lawlor’s Last Ride-Perhaps.

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6 Comments

  1. Loved reading this remembrance and tribute. What a great vintage photo of the family skiing! Thank you Kate!❤️

  2. Peter Lawlor was my dear mentor for about 10 years and I will never forget him; his charm! his talent! his patience! and his love of all of people.

    One of the best advices he offered me was for me to “get the sweet out of my poems.” He said: “after reading your poems I have to throw out everything in my refrigerator that contains any sugar!”

    After exchanging poetry via email for a few years he said my poetry was really improving and in fact some of my poems, he thought, were extraordinary.

    I will never forget him and I know he is happy in heaven singing with all his whaling buddies and friends he’s known throughout life.

    I treasure books he gave me and his initial autobiography.

  3. Caitlin Standish on

    Thank you for this beautiful article. I am one of Pete’s granddaughters and it means so much to know how beloved he was on Whidbey. I witnessed it so often in my visits to the island and have a deep love for Whidbey after many, many visits to Langley and Clinton. I miss him dearly. We were pen pals since I was in my teens. He was a a unique soul and a force to be reckoned with!

    • Kate Poss | With Photos by David Welton on

      Hello Caitlin. Your grandad lit up wherever he went. I feel lucky to have known him and so love his daughter Gretchen, a fellow mermaid.

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