Opinion: Finding Meaning


A Child of Laguna

By Skip Hellewell

Do you recall the Walt Whitman poem, “There was a child went forth every day”? Whitman recalled the formative experiences of childhood, how the objects we first look upon become part of us. He spoke of Nature, the flowers, creatures, and people we meet, and of the sea and all that beckons beyond. Whitman’s poem was perhaps autobiographical, but it came to mind with the passing of a child of Laguna—Donita Lloyd.

Her family came to Laguna when she was five, her sister Devylee, three. Crescent Bay became their beach and Donita, remembered as a “beach waif,” formed a lifetime love of ocean, swimming and surfing. When old enough, she surfed at Rockpile, and later in Mexico, at Tavarua, and twice traveled to Australia. She lost jobs through absence when the surf was up but the waves, it seemed, gave her life.

A younger Donita Lloyd, artist brush in hand, enjoying a moment. Submitted photo.

Reared in an art colony, Donita was always drawing, in the sand at the beach, in the family car on trips, on scraps of paper in quiet moments. In school, she took every art class, and when she graduated from Laguna Beach High School in 1970, she won a Festival of Arts scholarship that took her to Cal State Fullerton, as it was known then and a degree in art. The Sawdust Art Festival then became her home. Though now and then juried into the Festival of Arts, Donita was eccentric in a quirky way, and Sawdust fit her like a glove. Her art was five times featured in the annual Sawdust poster. Through times, good and bad, she was an artist, and her art was never far from the beach.

A friend recalled Donita’s childlike way with people, how she didn’t judge and easily forgave, explaining, “We’re all just trying to do our best.” Another recalled her love of life, her hopeful search for a bright side in difficult times, and her delightful friendship. While almost everyone knew her, she wasn’t known to have an enemy. Donita never married; her sister Devylee, her childhood buddy, was her companion at the end.  

Donita was never rich in terms of money, drove old cars often in need of repair, and lived in the Thurston Trailer Park, which leads to a story. When Laguna got too expensive for Donita, a surfing friend who owned a trailer kindly offered it to her for what she could pay, though he could have sold it for more. It was the perfect solution for Donita, affordable and just a stone’s throw from the Sawdust Festival.

Her parents were drawn to Buddhism, and Donita came of age in the Hippie Era, the time of Timothy Leary and the Brotherhood of Eternal Love. Yet she had an innate yearning for religion, perhaps a search for meaning, and was eclectic in her faith, attending various churches. Two weeks before her death, frail and needing help, she spoke in Laguna’s Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints of her love for Jesus Christ. It was, at the end of her life journey, her final testimony. There’s meaning in that.

There will be a celebration of Donita Lloyd’s life Oct. 29, 3 p.m., at Laguna’s Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 682 Park Avenue.

Skip fell in love with Laguna on a ‘50s surfing trip. He’s a student of Laguna history and the author of “Loving Laguna: A Local’s Guide to Laguna Beach.”  Email: [email protected].

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  1. Thanks you Skip! What an incredible tribute to a beautiful person and a wonderful artist. I loved seeing Donita at the Sawdust every year. Her ability to capture the ocean scenes in her paintings, were so real to life. She will be missed. May she rest in heavenly peace.

  2. Thanks for the wonderful remembrance of Donita! We knew little about her history but have several prints of her beautiful art in our home in San Clemente. We would love to know where we might be able to see or purchase more of her art if you would kindly refer us?

    Thank you

  3. I’m so sad to just hear of her passing. I loved seeing her at Sawdust twice each year. I have many pieces of her art, including a beautiful triptych that I treasure! I have moved away from California, and was looking to contact her when I found this sad news. Thank you Donita for the beautiful magic you made with paint, canvas and your amazing talent. xo


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