Ray Collins, who died last month at age 75, may be known to the world as the man who co-founded the Mothers of Invention band, along with Frank Zappa, but to many in Claremont, he was a smiling fixture in the small, tight-knit college town.
"He was just comfortable with just being," said Richard Barnes, one of dozens who came out Sunday afternoon to Shelton Park to remember the old man with the long white beard who always enjoyed spinning yarns with those willing to take the time and interest to listen.
"It warms my heart to see so many people out here to remember Ray," said a woman who was one of many people who stood in front of the crowd of about 40 and shared their memories of Collins.
The crowd let out a collective laugh when one woman recalled her son telling her he liked Collins but thought he was cranky.
Many knew of Collins' musical past and his association with Mothers of Invention and Zappa, but most knew him as the smiling, but sometimes temperamental man with the long white beard who enjoyed spending time at the library.
Cynthia Allaire, who learned about Sunday's memorial through Facebook, brought her guitar and she shared her memories of Collins.
"I've known him for 10 years," she said. "He had a great friendliness."
She then began to play and sing "I'll Fly Away." People began to join in until at the end of the song their voices could be heard by sidewalk shoppers on the next block.
Two women who stumbled on the public memorial asked what was going on. While they didn't know Ray Collins' name, when someone described Collins to the woman, their eyes lit up and one said, "I think I know exactly who you're talking about. He seemed like a nice man."
There were some tears, but mostly smiles as they remembered and celebrated the life of their quirky town greeter.
Reach Beatriz via email, call her at 909-386-3921, or find her on Twitter @IEBeatriz.