Rachel McMillen—A Life of Sea Changes
By Keira Morgan
A Life in Three Acts
Rachel McMillen is a familiar face in the Lakeside community. Many know her from the Introduction to Lakeside course she conducts; or perhaps her Creative Writing course. Or as managing editor of the Lake Chapala Society’s monthly newsletter, Conecciones. In her spare time, she is an active member of a biweekly writing group, a member of the Orchid Society, and of course the dog rescue group. And, just a minor thing, she’s a successful author of four mystery novels set on the Pacific coast of Canada with another novel in the works. But that’s all for, as she says, she is retired now.
Act 1: Cruising Through Youth
Born Rachel Taylor in England, when she was six, she and her mother boated to Australia on a cargo ship, landing in Melbourne where she grew up. After completing high school at 15, she cruised through an Honors Bachelor of Arts degree in English Language and Literature from the University of Melbourne at 18. Dreaming of travel, she took teacher training. Since Australia was actively recruiting immigrants, especially from Italy and Greece, she uncovered a perfect Australian government job plying the seas on a cruise ship from Australia to Greece, and teaching English to Greek families who were moving to Australia on the return journey.
After two years the government finally realized this was not cost-effective, so Rachel beached herself in Greece for the next three years, teaching conversational English to Greek professionals and rambling through neighboring countries with her fellow ESL teachers. One sunny day, she decided she’d had enough drifting with the flow, so she returned to Australia that September. Offered a permanent teaching job in the north-western city of Darwin starting in February, she moved immediately and found work as a cook on a boat serving two aboriginal missions to tide herself over until then.
Life has its own currents. Bud McMillen, a Canadian chemical engineer, had taken a two-year leave of absence from his job on Vancouver Island to travel the world. On the wharves of Darwin, in Australia, Bud and Rachel met and romance blossomed. Two streams became one and before Rachel started her permanent job, Bud suggested that she might prefer to continue her journey with him. She agreed. Westward they meandered, through Timor, Bali, Jakarta, and onward, holding hands and adventuring the local transportation from buses to ferries to trains.
They married in India, worked as movie extras in Bollywood, trekked through Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Turkey, Greece, Yugoslavia, and Austria before arriving in Germany, where Bud’s two-year leave ended. They boarded a plane for Canada and in Port Alice, on the remote north end of Vancouver Island where Bud worked, Rachel discovered her first home in Canada.
Act Two: Swimming Upstream through Maturity
Rachel started writing stories as a child and this gift is a central part of her persona. By the time she, Bud, and their sons moved to Kamloops, in British Columbia’s interior, where they roosted for the next thirtyish years, the currents of her life had shaped themselves into a fast-flowing stream. It consisted of a warp of family (a daughter joined her tribe), adventure, learning, laughter, and writing woven with a weft of birding, travel, sailing, arts and theatre, dogs and animal rescue, training and teaching, communications and computers, accounting, board membership, weaving, ham radio operating, boat building, business ownership, management consulting, and other work and hobbies that entered and left as time passed.
Variety, adventure and fun as a wife, mother, grandmother, and friend were the hallmarks of her life during this long flowing period as she travelled from young wife and mother to co-captain a sailboat and sail the Pacific shore from Alaska to Cabos with three teenagers for weeks or months at a time while pursuing her own career in adult education and communications. When their hatchlings left the nest and Bud rose in the hierarchy, she captained her own businesses, first in retail sales and later in consulting and training. Throughout, she wrote weekly and monthly columns on theater and the arts, on yachting, on travel, on you name it.
Rachel McMillen is a woman of boundless interests, ability, a fascination with learning new subjects and sharing what she has learned with the world. As this phase of their journey reached sunset, she and Bud talked about where their sailboat would beach. Then, just before Bud planned to retire, tragedy struck, and he died of a fast-moving cancer.
Act Three: Writing Up a Storm
Rachel did not let the loss of the love of her life destroy her passion for adventure. Accepting that their dreams for two didn’t fit her single life, she moved to a Gulf Island and wrote her successful series of novels set on the Canadian Pacific coast and starring her dashing RCMP sailing hero, “Dan Connor.” Dark Moon Walking, Black Tide Rising, Green River Falling, and Gray Sea Running, are all available at Amazon and other booksellers.
But this wasn’t enough. She travelled to Mexico and other spots she loved, visited children and grandchildren, wrote, birded, wove, gardened, rescued dogs, and generally did more than most, but found that the chilly, wet West Coast Canadian winters were dampening her spirits more and more. Time for a change, she decided. She loved Mexico, and she’d heard good things about Lake Chapala’s weather. She came for a couple of months one year. The next year she rented for six months. Ten years plus later, she’s an integral part of the Lakeside community. We are fortunate she chose us.
Keira Morgan is a writer who now lives in Comala, Colima, after departing the cold of Ottawa, Canada, in 2010. Her area of particular interest is French Renaissance historical fiction, but she also writes articles and short stories. She is part of a small community of English language writers in the primarily Spanish-speaking city of Colima.