It’s been a little over a month since George Bliss left Carpinteria, but the echo of his laughter still ricochets around the valley. The sound hits me when I spy a golf cart scooting past Lions Club Park, or catch a whiff of Tyler’s Donuts. Others hear it above the roar at Memorial Stadium, or in the quiet of an avocado orchard. At the Boys & Girls Club, at Girls Inc., or any place of play, everyone can hear it.
The tangibles of George’s life are easy and straightforward: Born in Maryland in 1919. Moved to Carpinteria in 1921. Attended local schools, met the love of his life, Marjorie, at UCLA. Married in 1941 and had three wonderful children, followed by six beautiful grandchildren and two terrific great-grandchildren. Enjoyed hugely successful career as avocado rancher and businessman, which included founding Carpinteria Motor Transport and County Bank.
What’s not so easy to capture is the essence of George; how it made an indelible mark on the community he loved, which adored him back. Almost any Carpinterian can name at least a few of his many accomplishments and accolades: Carpinterian of the Year, Santa Barbara News-Press Lifetime Achievement Award, Santa Barbara County planning commissioner, Life Member Lions International, Carpinteria School Board trustee, Land Trust of Santa Barbara County director, 19th Agricultural District Board president and director : well, the list seems endless.
But to define his spirit would be about as easy as getting him to sit still. A believer in Carpinteria taking care of its own, George championed the causes to make that happen, his first question always, “What can I do to help?” quickly followed by, “Let’s do it!”
“George was a master of building the log cabin at Lions Park,” recalls fellow club member Tyson Willson. “He was there every day, getting volunteers to work. It took a good year.” And when the club ran out of money before a nice entryway could be built, “George stood up again.”
Do you know what he considered his biggest honor? When it was getting so he couldn’t stand through the entire cocktail hour preceding meetings, a special table and chair (not the hard folding kind) were designated for him in the front of the room. He loved that members came over to share a laugh, just like before. That meant the most.
If you look hard enough around Carpinteria, you’ll see the Bliss name tucked away here and there. At Lions Park there’s a plaque dedicated to George. At Girls Inc. there’s an oak tree planted for him and Marjorie. Some tie their generosity to recognition-having a building named after them or receiving some sort of special status-but not George. He thought he was the lucky one for being able to help.
“‘Richie,’ he’d say,” remembers Rich Medel, director of the Carpinteria Boys & Girls Club, “‘this is what it’s all about,’ when he’d be at the clubhouse and see kids playing or doing homework.”
Lucio, Rich’s dad, and George went to school together and got married one month apart. Medel and Bliss trucks, from their respective businesses, were used for homecoming floats. The football team would sit atop a flatbed stopped at the intersection of Linden and Carpinteria avenues for a pep rally.
“As a kid, I saw George as a role model. He was always working and wasn’t afraid of anything,” Rich says. “He gave my dad money to buy property. If there was a disaster or someone needed help, you could count on George.” He didn’t believe in handouts, though. His philosophy was one of teaching people how to fish rather than give them fish.
He also believed that if you trust people, they become trustworthy. He didn’t care for limos and tuxedos and wasn’t impressed by them either. Nowadays, someone might describe George as “Pollyannaish.”
“Every once in a while he’d stop by with avocados for the members to sell to make some money. Youth was always the focus for him,” recollects Ruthie Tremmel, director of Girls Inc. “The minute you say the name ‘George Bliss’ you can’t help but smile. There’s nothing but fond memories. And that laugh.”
George’s energy was contagious, and he had the ability to inspire us to do for our community. He was a friend. I loved him. He was a good man.
To which Rich adds, “In Carpinteria, we say, ‘Warrior spirit never dies.’ Now we can add, ‘George’s spirit will never die.’”