December 24, 2007

From Heike in Austria

First of all – THANKS for the great memorial site for Debra McClinton, and the collection of the pictures. Looking at them makes me feel like I just seen her yesterday…

I met Debbie on the day of my wedding in Raleigh, N.C. in 1996.

My ex-husband and Tony have been good friends and one day my ex told me Debbie – Tony’s girlfriend — will take the pictures at our wedding. It was ok with me – one thing less to worry about. On the day of the wedding I drove by her house in Raleigh just to make sure that everything is ok – she was quite surprised. My husband did ask her once but never mentioned anything again so she didn’t take him serious and had no plans to take pictures at our wedding today – of course she got everything together and came to the wedding. The pictures turned out wonderful.

I remember her always saying my name wrong – calling my name out loud and wrong, but I loved the way she called me Heikaaaa (not Heike) but that was ok, that was Debbie.

Anyway, one day she called and asked if we want to join them at her parents’ lake house in Asheville and we had the honour to spend a night in her mom’s wonderful house in the mountains as well as a few days at the lake house. She showed us the spot where the “lift up in the water” in the movie Dirty Dancing was filmed.
It was an unforgettable weekend… she told me stories about being with another friend the photographer at Charlie Sheen’s wedding, about the rides back and forth to CA with her little white jeep….. We also visited here & Tony in San Francisco in the huge loft apartment.

I remember her pretty eyes and her big smile. She was a very pretty person with a unique fashion style. I always admired her work and dreamed of being a photographer just like her….

I LOVE her homepage, I take a look at her pictures online quite frequently – her prints are wonderful art.

The last time she had send an email was back in July. Thank you Debbie that I had the honour to get to know you and to have many nice memories of you. Thinking of you makes me smiley…and sad…..I am so sorry that you chose this way….I was so looking forward to welcome you and your family here in Austria one day…

You will be missed @-->---

—Heikaaaa – like you always called me ;-)

December 23, 2007


I just found out about Debra and am stunned!

Debra was life personified for me, as for all whose lives she touched. Her enthusiasm and her laugh, her open and searching blue eyes and her flying hair, her cowboy boots. I still see her come in my shop and buy this huge armoire, she said it reminded her of the one her sister and her used to sit in ... she missed her sister a lot......
I am so sorry for everybody she left behind and so sorry for her, too, she was unhappy about being gone from home too often on shoots; when i talked about moving to Italy, she said she could never leave her family so far for so long?
She took the beautiful pictures of Sarah on the chaise lounge in the back of my store, i had asked her to help me with an advertisement for the chocolate store we were opening, and wanted an old fashioned, nauty, seductive photograph, reminding of the old sigarette pictures. I helped styling and we had a wonderful day, full of fun.
We stayed in touch and i loved her spontaneity, her freedom and saw behind her wild happiness a sorrow, a seriousness, a sadness.
She was so sensitive and so ready to help any one at all times, so personable, i always secretly wanted to be more like her. She loved Frankie so much, tried to be there for her as much as possible...
Last i emailed her, i told her we bought a house in Italy and were moving, she wrote back that we were mad, and : lets have wine some time..! I wrote back but never heard again........
Her death leaves a big void , for me she will stay alive as her voice still resonates in my head,"you are crazy!"
Yes, her voicemail was always full and it was maddening to her too, she felt flooded sometimes,she told me it was too much at times, she was tired of going on shoots far away from home, felt disconnected at times.
I miss you Debra ,i know you did not want to make anyone sad like this, ever, i am sorry for all who miss you , i hope you found your sister .....i will always love thinking of you, you inspired so many of us,

Welmoed. (gypsy honeymoon)

December 19, 2007

"Fate made us sisters, our hearts made us friends"

Debbie made this card for me 22 years ago. Looking back I know there are some people who have contributed in profound ways to who I became. She is one of them.

We were 17, I was an exchange student from Norway spending a year in Asheville. In the fall of 1985 I needed to change host families. Debbie's mom Sue talked to her family, and they decided to try me out. I was the luckiest girl in the world. The hospitality of Sue, Ray, Danny, Kim and Debbie was unlimited. I lived as a daughter in the house. I got a sister. Debbie included me in her senior year at A C Reynolds. She shared her friends, her clothes, her time, her car, her laughter and her heart. We laughed, we cried, we worked, we talked, we read, we wrote, we danced, we yelled. We drank unbelievable amounts of Diet Coke. And ate chockolate chip cookie dough. For Christmas we got the pink pickled egg that had been standing on the counter of the gas station at Fairview the whole year. It was disgusting. We went to the prom, took drama class together, took Debbie’s car and Sue’s credit card and ran off for Florida and Atlanta. Debbie’s enthusiasm was a gift to her surroundings. She did not filter the world like many of us do. We loved our lives, we had great faith in the future, we were delighted by the opportunities that were in front of us. We knew everything was possible, like only 17 year olds can know that. We wrote hundreds of letters after I went back to Oslo. I still have them.

I have not seen Debbie in many years. I was in contact with her in October, confirming I would try to visit in April next year.

I am so sorry. I wish a beautiful soul like hers would not have had to experience the darkness she must have seen. Debbie and her family are constantly on my mind. I have no words big enough to express the gratitude I feel for what they meant to me. Every day since I got the news I have heard Debbie’s voice saying my nickname in all the funny, happy, goofy ways only Debbie could say it. She has and always will occupy a part of my heart. I would have been a poorer person had I not known her. She was and is my only sister. Thank you Debbie.

—Marianne, “Marna”

December 17, 2007

On a field trip

Photos take on a class trip to Marin Headlands in May 2007 by Maria, mother of one of Frankie's classmates.

December 16, 2007

Memories of Deb...

Laweh – we never did know how to spell that word, but traveling through China, it was what everyone called us. Not entirely sure whether the word meant “foreigner” or “white devil”, it was used with amusement and a sense of amazement. It is only now that Deb is gone that I wonder if she didn’t feel very much like a laweh in her own world over the last year of her life. My last conversation with her worried me. She talked about “taking a sabbatical” from photography. She talked about separation from Tony and custody. She talked about her fragile mental state. She talked about medication. About her sister. But she was Deb. Laweh. She would make it through. I tried calling her again a while later. And emailing too. But I didn’t hear back. I didn’t think much of it, because living so far away, we were in touch very sporadically. Months could go by without a word. Then suddenly we’d talk and it was almost with desparation that we attempted to catch up, always feeling somehow equally as inspired by one another. Which amazed me, because she was truly an inspiration to me. So full of wonder and love and curiosity and talent!

I was lucky enough to meet Deb before going on a trip to China with our photojournalism class in photography school.
I remember meeting Deb, and Tony and having this sense of incredible excitement about not only meeting these two wonderful new people, but of heading off around the world.

Deb drove this little old school orange VW beetle when she lived in Santa Barbara and I honestly remember my heart being in my throat as she careened over those mountain roads. The school sat on the mountainside, and she would seem to find the steepest road to take to head downtown. I swear we were airborne as we descended. This is when we first met. I adored her immediately and she scared the hell out of me. I thought to myself she’d make a perfect traveling partner. Daring, brave, wild and wonderful.
We had a conversation before we left, looking off into the distance and dreaming about what it would be like to see a sight in the distance and say “let’s go there!” and just go! We did and we wound up lost rambling down a mountain in China after touring a temple at the top. For some reason we figured we’d find our way down the back-side. The road led us to an unlikely place as it quickly drew dark – a television transmission station or something like that. 3 people worked and slept there – I guess to make sure that the antenna was always working? We fumbled through a conversation using Mandarin-English dictionaries. They fed us, gave us a place to sleep and led us down the mountain on foot the next day – stopping at another monastery – I guess to show us some sights.

Deb and I traveled through China together for 3 months and it was spectacular. We spent almost the entire time together. Tony came and joined up with us (by bicycle no less) for a couple of weeks. We drank black tea in our guesthouse rooms with Nespray in it (introduced to us by the television people – one of nestles wonderful powdered milk products) and we ate these unbelievably delicious candies called white rabbits. I can find them in Toronto’s Chinatown and when I eat them, I always think of deb.

After China, Deb had the courage to just go to San Francisco and start her career. I admire her for so many things. And so many things I’ve read on this blog describe her so perfectly. Her vivacity, her charm, her curiosity, her constant thinking and wondering and asking and listening and loving. Her wonder. She constantly reminds me to wonder, though I’ve never been able to come close to her openness and absolute delight at everything she encounters.
“I LOVE THAT!” I can hear her saying it, with her slight drawl and a sort of puppy dog look on her face of true endearment for something – anything.
God I miss her.
I was shocked. Absolutely shocked to read about her death. I was forwarded an email on December 13th with the heading ‘sad news’. Sad news doesn’t even come close to the devastation I feel, that I know that many of us feel at the loss of Debra McClinton. The entire world shifted. We lost a bright shining star, a magnificent spirit, a delightful and firey and passionate and imaginative windstorm of a woman. I miss her with all of my soul.

Though missing her is a part of my life, as I live in Toronto and rarely see her – knowing that she was still out there shining always made me feel somehow that all was okay in the world. That she was out there touching people’s lives with her excitement and love and, well, infuriating lateness.
Her spirit will always be a part of me. I am grateful for all of the memories. All the love. All of the ways she touched my life. My only solace is that she is soaring now, is at peace and has found a way to be eternally and gracefully herself. She must have embodied the brightest stars in the sky with all the fascination and discovery and mystery of the universe. That’s where I want her. In the night sky, and in the leaves of the trees, and on mountaintops and in the oceans and lakes, and in the tiny beautiful rocks that are actually smoothed out pieces of ceramics on leslie spit in Toronto – where she and Frankie picked up bits and pieces a few years ago and then helped decorate my garden. I want her everywhere and that is where she will remain. She has captured so many of our hearts, our imaginations, our minds and our souls. I miss her terribly right now. And it still hasn’t sunken in that she’s gone. How can this be?
I love her dearly. My heart goes out to her entire family and all of her friends.

Lisa the laweh from Canada.

December 14, 2007

From a Brooks classmate

E-mailed in by Mat:

Today was a bad day, as I kept thinking about Debra. I can't explain how fast the thoughts of Brooks flooded back. Back to the times both good and bad, tripping through our artistic endeavors. Bonding to each other like "life mates" on a raft in the middle of an ocean. All of us from somewhere else, and all we had were each other... and a dream. Somehow I think we all had the same or similar dream at Brooks, and were bound to build it our own way. If we could just figure that part out.
I have thought about those times more and less throughout my photographic career and wondered how everyone else was doing. I knew I was a photographer and some weren't. I knew I didn't finish Brooks and some did. I wondered where I fit in, if I was as good as I could have been had I stayed. Would the path have been as difficult as it was (and still is)? It seems like an endless chase if you haven't let it go by now, and I think Debra was a chaser. I think she even caught the tail end of her dreams from time to time looking at her beautiful work and credits.
How sad the feeling when a dreamer lets go. There's an empty pit in my stomach now as I feel that even though we weren't close, I have lost a sister, a fellow dreamer, a Brookie.



December 10, 2007

Fuzzy memories

E-mailed in by Elisha:

My first memory of Debra is from last fall at a meeting for our kids' school. She was wearing fuzzy things: boots and maybe a fuzzy vest. We ended up standing outside the school for almost an hour after the meeting, talking about antibiotic-resistant infections, boots, and tattoos. A day or two later an invitation came for Frankie Ray's 5th birthday party. On that day, my son Liam and I walked over to their house and found a giant trampoline, a collection of top hats to decorate and take home, and several cases of "2 Buck Chuck" wine. Needless to say, everyone at that party had an excellent time!

The last week Liam and I had with Debra was actually quite full of her. We saw more of each other than we usually did. Frankie Ray had her 6th birthday, and once again we walked the few blocks to her house. It was raining this time, so there was no trampoline, and I had homework to do, so there was no 2 Buck Chuck. And of course, we had an excellent time. That week we ran into Debra on our walks to school, and she quizzed me about my studies, in that way she had of finding out everything about a person in the blink of an eye.

This is what I remember as our last conversation, and it is typical Debra: I walked into school and she snuck up behind me and smacked my butt. And then, just as surprisingly, she turned those blue eyes on me and told me that I was an inspiration, because of going back to college at my age. I joked that she should come back to college with me, that she could get a graduate degree. But really, I was just hiding my shock that such an accomplished, talented, and successful woman could possibly find inspiration in little old me.

In between these two moments, these two bookends of conversation, Liam and I were graced with 13 months of Debra. Hers was the face I always looked for at school gatherings, her funky style and irreverently witty charm always helped ease my discomfort in crowds. I still expect to turn a corner in our neighborhood, or walk through a doorway at school, and see her waving madly at me, a goofy grin on her pretty face. Like the rest of you, I truly miss her.


December 7, 2007

"Deb was a catalyst"

From Caroline Allen, a friend of Deb's niece Miah's:

Every good thing that has ever been said about Deb is absolutely true. For the short moments I spent with her- a whole week at Disney world with her whole family, and whenever she visited Miah - were some of my most cherished memories - she captured me from the moment I met her (and probably before from my best friend constantly raving about her.)

I am so sorry for your loss, the whole world feels it.
Our lives are not determined by what happens to us but by how we react to what happens, not by what life brings to us, but by the attitude we bring to life. A positive attitude causes a chain reaction of positive thoughts, events, and outcomes. It is a catalyst, a spark that creates extraordinary results. Deb was a catalyst; she taught people to dream, to hope, and to believe in themselves. Whoever she met, she made them stronger- where ever she went, she made it more beautiful.

Love and Peace,

A giant silk softening the light

Reading everyone's memories is bittersweet. Makes me wish I had known Debra better, yet so many of the truths about her personality were obvious in the fraction of time I interacted with her. I was fortunate enough to be a victim of Debra's curiosity and apparent tendency to talk it up with strangers. I met her working at a boutique in Pacific Heights when I was 19 and very new to the city. A lot of the people who came in were not-so-friendly but she was chatty and excited about buying the crazy-stylish, of the moment, a Frankie B jean jumpsuit. I don't remember what the situation was exactly but I had to call her later about something else coming in and I think she said she wouldn't be coming back for it because she was pregnant! But when she was in the store, we talked about her work and I was really excited because I had always loved photography but had stopped playing around with it and it was SO cool to be meeting this gorgeous, funny, nice woman photographer. I made some comment about how it was always foggy, and she said that's what she loved about SF, that there was always this giant natural silk softening the light on everything. How I remember all these details only speaks to how infectious and amazing a person she was, it was the only day I ever saw her – but it wound up being the first connection I had to the little bay area photo-world that has since become a main facet in my life. A couple months later in an equally unexpected situation, I met Ms. Kate Powers, and striking up a similar conversation – came to find out they were great friends. From there on out I worked for Kate off an on and Debra was this delightful but distant figure who was very close to one of my best friends, whom I had left messages for, had seen emails from and whose work I couldn't have admired more-but who in the six years since then I haven't seen. I just got the one day, the one half hour or so–and for that I am glad.

Anna Elledge

Debra and Kate at the Bellagio

Memories from UNC Chapel Hill

Will Hearn sent this in to be posted:

It was very odd for me to type in Debra McClinton into Google yesterday out of the blue because I have not seen or thought much about Debra (Debbie) since graduating from UNC Chapel Hill in 1987. I think she graduated in 1991, but I am really not sure anymore. I was a Senior and knew Debbie for that year as fairly casual friends, but I really liked her and thoughts of her have stayed with me over the years - I never really knew what happened in her life in any way until yesterday. I was looking through some old photos from my days in Chapel Hill over Thanksgiving and there was Debbie sitting on my front porch - and I know now how life turned out for her - she led a life full of creativity and adventure surrounded by people she loved and who loved her. Not bad. You can imagine my reaction to learn that my typing in her name corresponded with 2 weeks after her passing.

We actually met because her bicycle broke down near my house and I stopped to help her - who wouldn't. I still see her standing there looking at that chain, hair across her face, looking for help. We walked her bike back to my house and she stood back as I went to work on it - my sense was she was at a complete loss and grateful to have the help, but a bit reserved and wary of this guy who would just take her to his house to fix her bike (I was a pretty serious racer at the time). I don't think she had been on campus for more than a few weeks (I know it), because I lived in a rough part of town and she had no business being there. From the first moment I met her, I was completely infatuated with her and there began a friendship that was sustained for the entire year.

We would get together about once a month just to check in mostly to go see old films at the student union or go see bands (unfortunately she was underage). We were in very different stages of life at UNC - she in a dorm and I about to graduate, but I just found a connection with her that felt good and because of the timing incomplete. I left Carolina at the end of the year and, having lined up a job in Germany, was completely gone off in a new direction - the last letter I had from Debbie was I think that summer and it was always nice to hear from her. I have looked at the slideshow on the memorial site and I can still see my friend Debbie in those pictures, especially the photo of her kissing her daughter. It is obvious to me today, that Debbie went on to do what she was meant to do as a creative individual in a field that suited her.

Who can say why we lose touch with people we encounter. There were many mentions of Debbie's tardy nature and I do recall waiting once outside a theater for her, but that was not a lasting impression for me. The more enduring impression I have was of a an 18 year-old who wanted to get out and see the world - and explore the world. I had spent my Sophomore year studying in Germany and this was all she wanted to know about - I am glad she fulfilled this wish in her life.

There is one other memory I have of Debbie that I want to share. At the end of my Senior year at UNC, in fact on graduation day, my family came to spend the day - we had a reception at my place, just immediate family and no more than a few friends. It was a very casual affair and I don't even think I sent out invitations (these were the pictures I looked at). I remember distinctly Debbie coming in (actually very much on time), beautiful as always. She met my entire family and we laughed and talked about our friendship - about the bike repair and the fun we had had over the year. It turned out that another friend knew her from a computer lab (I sent him this link yesterday and he still remembers her fondly). It was so nice of her to come by and it reinforces to me today that at least at that time, our friendship was as real to her as it was to me. To this day I think back on Debbie - I guess this is the effect she had on many of your bloggers as well. Good to know that she had such great friends because she was worthy of them.

You can imagine my surprise in typing in Debbie's name in Google and this... To those who mourn, I wish you peace and renewed joy in the future. I also just wanted her friends and family to know that her influence and friendships remain from UNC days as well.

All the best,


December 6, 2007

Little Debbie

The following was emailed to me by Lee Cowen. (Bart and I am happy to post for anyone -- just email your thoughts to bartnagel or azabpowell *at*

Thanks for giving her old friends from the east coast a glimpse of Debbie's life over the past few years in the Memorial Slideshow. It was very moving because it made you laugh and sad at the same time. The Little Deb (or Debbie) as we knew her growing up in Asheville, has always been an incredible person with a huge heart and a beautiful soul. People have always loved being around her because she was always so goofy and intelligent. I knew her very well before she grew up and became a beautiful woman, a loving mother and an accomplished photographer but it was obvious she was destined to achieve great things and enhance the lives of many people. I will never forget her blue eyes and that incredible smile. Her laugh was so contagious that you always laughed whenever you were around her.

One of most vivid memories of Debbie was when I taught her to drive (a manual car). If you have ever been a passenger in her car, please do not blame me. I can still hear her laughing over the horrible sound of the gears grinding. At first, her laughter was partly due to her embarrassment. As time went on, she began to truly enjoy grinding the gears and making the car stall. We were both laughing so hard we were crying. After she finally got out of first gear and we were making a little progress, she pulled off the road and stalled the car again. She had been laughing so hard she had to stop and take a bathroom break. I will miss her intoxicating laugh and her beautiful smile.

From the words of her friends, it sounds like she continued to affect the lives of everyone she met in a way that only Little Debbie could do. I have thought about her many times at various "Debbie type moments" over the last 25 years. I know I will continue to think of her at all Debbie moments in the future. She touched the hearts of everyone she met and her memory will live on in our hearts forever. I have so many questions and I know that I will never understand this tragedy but I pray she has found Peace. My thoughts and prayers are with all of her friends and her entire family.

Her old friend, Lee Cowan.

December 3, 2007

It's Debraaa!

I began my long distance relationship with Debra almost seven years ago. I came across a promo piece of hers that inspired me to call her to see her book. She sent me her portfolio and I poured over her beautiful images. Our long distance relationship was born as I sent her on assignments from across the country, from my office in New York.

“Hi Tina!!!! It’s Debraaaaaaaaaaaa!” This was the typical Debra greeting. It always made me laugh the way she drew out her name. Our phone conversations continued for almost two years, punctuated by notes that she included in packages. A “Hi Tina” or smiley face on a post-it were not uncommon and made me smile. We finally met in person during a trip she made to New York. She was not at all what I was expecting, although I’m not quite sure what that was. The shock of blonde hair, the icy blue eyes, and the funky style took me by surprise, but only until I recognized her for her infectious laugh, (coupled by her1000-watt smile), intrepid curiosity and genuine interest in everything I had to say. Happily this visit was followed by many more.

One of my favorite long distance moments happened one year around my birthday. We were chatting on the phone and I recounted my night out and mentioned that I hadn’t had any birthday cake, the one thing that to me makes birthdays different from any other day. A few days later a Fed Ex package arrived at my office. Thinking that it was some film or contact sheets, I opened it, surprised to find yards of bubble wrap encasing one small, perfect chocolate caramel tart from Citizen Cake! I called Debra immediately to thank her (I shockingly didn’t get her voice mail) and she started laughing hysterically reenacting her experience of walking into the bakery and asking what pastry would travel best by Fed Ex to New York. Apparently the salespeople were alarmed that she would even suggest that she might treat their confections in such a casual way, yet steered her away from the more delicate items to the most dense and travel worthy sweet. That chocolate caramel tart was delicious not just for the amazing ingredients, but for the playful and decidedly thoughtful person who sent it to me. She didn’t have to do that, I certainly didn’t expect her to do that…but she did. I’ve never met anyone else like her and doubt that I ever will.

Much love,

December 1, 2007

My Big Sister.....

I wish someone would wake me from this terrible nightmare.

Debbie was truly amazing. Everyone who came into contact with her wanted to be near her and be her friend. I'm lucky because she was my big sister. The person who taught me everything I know about Photography and Art. I look up to her in more ways than one. I want to be kind like her, smile the way she does, be a photographer like her, live life the way she lived life. I don't now what transpired in the last year of her life, but i hope she finds peace with all of her dealings. She inspired so many people to do good and she was the kindest person you will have ever come in contact with. Her death took all of us by surprise, espically to all of us who knew her and the way she was. She walked into the room and you knew your day would be better because she was there. When she talked to you, you were the only person in the room. She zoned in on you and only you. I attended the service in NC and I was not surprised when well ove 100 people showed up to celebrate her life. It showed me and everyone how much she was loved and that she will be greatly missed. Her spirit will live on in the life of her daughter, her work, her family and friends. I love the person she was and i will miss her more than i can say...
I miss you!

elsewhere in blogland

Lyn, one of Deb's school-mom friends, sent a link to a blog post that's about her passing. Although the person who wrote it didn't know her, many of the people commenting on it did, so I thought I would include it here.