by Sandra Tillisch-Svoboda
Dr. Albert C. Svoboda, Jr., was born on July 27, 1931, and died at home surrounded by his family on September 14, 2006. Al came to Santa Barbara in 1966 to join the Sansum Medical Clinic where he worked as an internist and gastroenterologist until 1996. Having grown up in Chicago, he welcomed the California weather. We met while working together at the clinic, and were married here in Santa Barbara in 1985.
Al loved being a doctor and could not imagine any other career that could bring so much satisfaction, so many challenges, and so much meaning to life. He was a wonderful listener, asking insightful questions and encouraging people to share their problems. He always felt that being a doctor was a privilege because of the trust his patients placed in him. I remember one evening at home when he was contemplating one of his patients who was seriously ill and had been in the hospital for several days. All of a sudden, he jumped out of his chair, exclaimed, “I know what’s wrong!” and picked up the phone. The patient went home in two days. How exciting and rewarding!
Al was passionate about so many things — learning, traveling, orchids, people. We traveled the world extensively together and this gave us an opportunity to learn about other cultures; we felt this gave us a better perspective on our own lives. From New Guinea to South America, Africa, Asia, and Europe, there were very few places we missed; from each, we took home with us something special.
Music also enriched our souls. The Music Academy of the West and the students there were a source of such pleasure and enrichment for both of us. We connected with many wonderful young violinists and their friends, who are now like family. Visual art was another of Al’s many interests. He loved to attend lectures at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art every year, and we spent time in any art museum we encountered on our travels. Keeping in line with his big appetite for life, Al also loved cooking. Since he believed that each day should start with a good meal, breakfast was his specialty. Al and a friend of his contemplated opening a breakfast place on the beach — until we wives threw up our hands in despair at the prospect of spending all our time in such a place!
Al had an addiction for orchids, which I came to share. Mrs. Harry B. Ireland of Santa Barbara gave him his first cymbidiums, and, since she gave him two, he decided to try his hand at hybridizing. At the time of his death, he had more than 100 crosses registered with the Royal Horticultural Society in London. Many were named for his family and friends, including one for me, which he called Sandra Lee. We ended up having “his and hers” greenhouses, and although Al was my mentor, he was only allowed to look and advise — not touch — when he came into my greenhouse. We both became orchid judges and loved traveling to Japan and throughout the U.S. to judge orchids. We were active in the American Orchid Society and Cymbidium Society of America, of which Al was president.
Al served the orchid community with humor, wit, and admirable dedication in many varied capacities. He was president of the Santa Barbara International Orchid Show, the Santa Barbara Orchid Society, and the Santa Barbara Branch of the Cymbidium Society of America. He had wonderful ideas for our orchid displays, and we won many trophies for them. There will now be a perpetual trophy at the Santa Barbara International Orchid Show dedicated to Al for the best complex Paphiopedilum hybrid, his special interest.
In his last few weeks, Al wrote of himself, “I have huge curiosity and many interests, including exploration, geology, biology, genetics, history, current events, music, and literature. I like to liken myself to a Renaissance Man, or maybe more closely to a Victorian gentleman. So I would like it to be said that I had many interests, loved the pursuit of truth, liked to ask questions in the search for knowledge — particularly of people — and always rejoiced in a new fact.”
Al’s goal was to leave the world a better place for his having been here, and he hoped that people were better for having known him. His family and friends know he achieved that goal.
A memorial service for Albert will be held on Saturday, September 23 at 10:30 a.m. at the Music Academy of the West, 1070 Fairway Road, Montecito.
The family suggests that memorial contributions be made to the internship program at the Sansum Diabetes Research Institute or to the Music Academy of the West.