September 4 was Goleta’s Mayor Margaret Connell’s 81st birthday, and she has much to celebrate, as do those of us she lives among.
Margaret has worked tirelessly for the community for many years. From 1975 to 1992 she served on the Santa Barbara School Board. In 1987, Connell was a founding member of the influential Santa Barbara Women’s Political Committee, and served on their board for a long time. In 2000-2001 she served on the Santa Barbara Civil Service Commission. Margaret also played a crucial role in Goleta’s becoming a city in 2001. She was elected as the first Mayor of Goleta and served in the City Council for the next five years. In 2006 she served as a board member on the Santa Barbara Air Pollution Control District, and in November 2008 she was elected to the Goleta City Council once again.
Margaret was born in England and came to her husband’s country, the U.S., in 1955. Joe and Margaret had gotten married just the year before, and he was getting ready to come back to the U.S. after finishing a research position in the U.K., and to start his Ph.D. studies in Massachusetts. A year later, in 1956, the pair moved to California where Joe took a faculty position at UCSB. Since then, Margaret has called Goleta home.
“We used to live in what was a part of Storke Ranch, in the middle of a tomato patch. It was a little difficult for me to adapt. I had a certain level of shyness, you know. The language was similar, and that was an advantage, but it was still a little difficult in the beginning,” she said, almost reliving those days. “It was quite different around here ,” she said, with her now very light English accent. “There were orchards and avocados everywhere, and then it changed pretty quickly in the 60’s”.
Because she has been such an active player in the community for over 40 years, I looked for an opening to interview Margaret, and when I cornered her and started shooting questions at her, she answered thoughtfully and candidly.
The life that you’ve lived, is it how you imagined it when you married Joe?
I’ve always been interested in political issues, but I never imagined being as involved as I am.
Reflecting on your entire life, can you share with our readers which have been your most challenging times?
Raising four kids throughout their teenage years. That was challenging! Another very challenging thing was to be able to hold all pieces of my life together – as a mother, with my husband, at my job. Also, a difficult time for me in particular was from 1990 – 1992 when I was working at Planned Parenthood, and I was sort of their spokesperson. In those days picketing was quite aggressive, and we needed to be careful. Oh, and when I was at the School Board around 1979-1980 we had to close schools due to declining enrollment. That was very tough. Then again, in 1989, and for the same reasons, we were looking into closing a high school, and we were contemplating the possibility of closing Dos Pueblos. Now, I’m glad we didn’t do it. All of what I mentioned has been difficult, but nothing compares to the stress of closing schools. That proved to be the hardest thing for me, emotionally.
Let’s now speak about what you have enjoyed the most.
I really enjoy being in a position where I can make decisions. My work with the community gives me the satisfaction to listen to people and their concerns. Hopefully, people agree with me and think that I’m making the right decisions.
What would you like to do that you have not done yet?
I would have loved to be a musician, but I know that I don’t have the talent. I would love to do more hiking, more being in contact with nature. I’d like that.
We all fear something, what is your greatest fear?
My greatest fear at this point is getting older and losing my capabilities and my independence. I know there are organizations that can help when this happens, but it just won’t be the same.
If you would find a magic wand, and that wand could be used only once, how would you use it?
Unfortunately, one of my daughters has health problems. I would use that wand to make her whole again.
I’m sure that there are some people out there that would like to serve their community just as you have done it. What would be your advice to them, in a nutshell?
For someone who’s interested in being in politics, I’d say: 1) examine your values, and always be true to them, 2) do the research that you need to do in order to make good decisions, and 3) do not stock mountains of paper. Throw it away! [Laughing out loud.] There’s a lot of paper involved in this business … mostly for reading. Don’t keep it around!
[Finally, I asked Margaret a question that no one I’d asked previously knew how to answer. I knew she would.] Do you know where the phrase “The Good Land” as a surname to Goleta came from?
Oh, the answer to your question comes in Walker Tompkins’ book Goleta, The Good Land and he attributes that specific phrase to Father Juan Crespi, who came with the Portola expedition in 1769. Reportedly, Father Crespi described the area by saying, “It is all a good land.”
I could have spent hours talking to Margaret, but I had promised to be mindful of her time and keep the interview to a half hour only. It was right at that time when Margaret told me: “Before we say goodbye, I guess I should tell you how happy I am. Last Sunday, September 4th, I became a great grandma. My grand daughter had her first baby.”
That’s great news! I congratulated her enthusiastically, and I thought to myself that maybe, one day, the baby will follow her great grandma’s footsteps.
At her 81 years young, Mayor Connell’s community involvement also includes serving on the Goleta Valley Historical Society Board, the Goleta Valley Land Trust Board, the Citizen’s Planning Association Land Use Committee, and the Planned Parenthood Action Fund Board. Margaret is an example and a role model for women who want to make a difference in their community.