Nancy McClellan, known by her friends for her quirky flair and aesthetic eye, died Wednesday after she was stabbed in an attempted carjacking two weeks before. She was 72.
The Oakland resident was assaulted on the intersection of Russell and Otis streets in Berkeley on her way home from a wedding at the Berkeley Zen Center on Sept. 19. Her alleged attacker, identified by police as 18-year-old Kamau Berlin, was charged with attempted murder and attempted carjacking. The case is the city’s second homicide of the year.
The head gardener of the Berkeley Zen Center, McClellan had a reputation in the community for being an extrovert with a green thumb. According to Alan Senauke, a vice abbot at the center, she had been a member of the community since the 1990s. There, McClellan was valued for her dedication to her practice.
“She was here just about every day gardening or mowing the lawn until about dark,” Senauke said. “She was a constant presence here.”
Raised in Southern California, McClellan moved to the Bay Area in the 1960s to pursue a master’s degree in fine arts at the San Francisco Art Institute, where she specialized in painting.
Sandra Woodall, McClellan’s classmate at the institute, said she met McClellan on their first day of class. During their days there, they would get coffee in the mornings and work at Macy’s in the evenings, she recalled.
“We walked in, and we saw each other, and we just stayed friends — really good friends,” Woodall said, adding that McClellan’s paintings possessed a story-like quality. “She was such a layered and beautifully complex person, and that’s what was so amazing about her.”
After graduation, McClellan worked as a paralegal for about 20 years at the Law Offices of Robert L. Goldstein in San Francisco. Having a keen eye for beauty, she then retired and pursued her passions for photography, writing and, later, improvisational comedy.
“ ‘Quirky’ is the word a lot of people will use,” said Lisa Geduldig, a member of the improv community and close friend of McClellan’s. “She had this posture about her and was just very entertaining to watch.”
Brady Lea, a member of a San Francisco improv troupe of which McClellan was a part, described her as a “kind and courageous person” capable of developing genuine connections with people from all walks of life.
Lea said that McClellan would often bring extra produce from her garden to improv classes, recalling a particular day when she brought a large bucket of Meyer lemons.
“Well, there were a lot of people there that day, including some experienced jugglers,” Lea said. “So we had this giant, impromptu juggling workshop.”
McClellan is survived by her two nephews. A memorial service, open to friends and family, will be held in the near future.