Embracing an ‘Eternal Legacy’

A model of the Stripling-Taylor police memorial that won the unanimous approval of the Arts Commission.
A model of the Stripling-Taylor police memorial that won the unanimous approval of the Arts Commission.

The Arts Commission chose the work titled “Eternal Legacy” by Gerard Basil Stripling and Michele Taylor to serve as a memorial for two Laguna Beach police officers who died on duty.

The unanimous recommendation, made this past Monday, April 14, will come before the City Council on May 6.

Three other Laguna Beach artists, Jorg Dubin, Marsh Scott and Terry Thornsley, were also finalists for the award. Between the winning pair, Stripling and Taylor individually have executed nine public arts commissions in various mediums throughout the town.

“Eternal Legacy” is centered on an undulating bronze sculpture designed to evoke a flag blowing in a light breeze. The textured form will contain separate glass panels inscribed with the words “Honor,” “Courage,” “Duty,” “Remember” and the image of an eternal flame carved from glass and lit from within.

The sculpture features a small U.S. flag and two frames for plaques dedicated to officers Gordon French and Jon Coutchie, with more room provided if future plaques are needed. French died in 1953, but Coutchie’s death last September spurred the police employees association to press for a memorial and its installation at City Hall, near the police department entry.

The artists will also include three inscriptions, which they said were inspired by the officers and their colleagues:

“You will never reach your dreams without honoring others along the way” and “It is easy to be brave from a distance,” and “Heroes are the people who do whatever has to be done regardless of the consequences.”

Specifications set by the commission called for easy accessibility but also space for those who might want wish for privacy. The artists also integrated required seating, fabricated from bronze and stone, along the perimeter, which will be enhanced by landscaping including boulders symbolizing strength and forbearance, and providing more places to sit.

In addition there will be glass panes engraved with M13, Coutchie’s call sign, the number 45 representing French’s badge and station number, and 31217, Coutchie’s badge number.

The site on Loma Terrace still needs some upgrading as well as the removal of a gas meter.

While praising the other three entries, the commission determined that “Eternal Legacy,” both the top choice of Couchie’s family and the Laguna Beach Police Employee’s Association, presented an elegant work that best integrates itself into the designated space and the spirit of the monument.

“We wanted to design a memorial setting that shows respect for the officers passing and that also celebrates their lives,” said Stripling. He said that the artists will continue to fine-tune placement of the flag, landscaping and the size of the eternal flame.

Fighting back tears, commissioner Lisa Mansour expressed pride at being able to participate in this particular choice. “It was a close decision, but one that will make the city proud,” she said.

“It’s an enveloping space that offers a sense of discovery,” said commissioner Suzi Chauvel, who suggested increasing the size of the flame.

The initial renderings left him unmoved, said Larry Bammer, president of the police employee group. But further study of the inscriptions and symbols convinced him that the work will be a powerful memorial for local police as well as an inspiration to fellow law enforcement personnel, said Bammer, who escaped with his life after being wounded by robbers in 2002 on Coast Highway.

“Jon was selfless and loyal,” said Laguna Lt. Jeff Calvert, who addressed the commission and described urging his high school friend to join the Laguna force after his discharge from the Army Rangers. “He was hired instantly and graduated from the police academy at age 36.”

Also present was Coutchie’s girl friend, Tara Young, who, along with Coutchie’s family, had given input on the memorial. “Jeff, Jon and I, we all went to high school together,” she said, referring to Laguna Hills High.

A motorcycle officer, Coutchie was struck by a pick-up truck late at night on Sept. 27, 2013 at the corner of Coast Highway and Cleo Street.

The memorial, budgeted at $70,000, is to be completed by Sept. 18 and dedicated on Sept. 21, the first anniversary of Coutchie’s death.

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