Robert Laselle Thornburgh
1924 - 2016
Robert Laselle Thornburgh was born to Emily (Haines) and Laselle Thornburgh on April 3, 1924 at Saint Francis Hospital in Santa Barbara. Bob died on Oct 28, 2016 following a brief illness related to old age. He was 92. His local roots stretch back 5 generations, and now forward three. He went to Roosevelt and Jefferson schools before joining Laguna Blanca’s first class, and later graduating from Santa Barbara High School and UCSB when it was still on the Riviera. He and his brother spent much of their youth roaming the lemon and avocado orchards of the family ranch at the corner of Toro Canyon & East Valley.
His first year at UC Berkeley was cut short with the onset of WWII. He volunteered for the Army Air Corps, ultimately becoming a navigator and radar operator on the B-29. Though his duffle bag had been shipped to the Pacific, the war ended before he was sent overseas. He flew many training missions and loved telling the story of getting Hemingway to autograph a dollar bill sitting at La Floridita in Havana.
In 1946, he married Genevieve Manset, on whom he first set eyes at SBHS soon after she had emigrated from France. A year later, the first of their four daughters, Yvonne, was born. They moved to Stanford, where Bob attended law school and their second daughter, Suzanne, arrived. He remembered warmly their time there, living in family student housing and serving on the Law Review with future Justices O’Conner and Rehnquist. The young Thornburgh family then returned to Santa Barbara, making their home in a small redwood board-and-batten cottage on Padaro Lane, which ended up serving as the family nucleus for nearly 70 years. Annette was born in 1953 and Mimi in 1961.
Bob joined his father’s firm Griffith and Thornburgh, specializing in tax and estate law. He loved the intellectual challenges and stimulation despite never enjoying the actual courtroom. Bob sat as counsel on the Cottage Hospital board for many years, as well as for Crocker Bank. The younger attorneys still tell of his reserved but insightful and generous leadership. He was always straight to the point.
He was a long time member of The Valley Club, forfeiting his membership upon retirement wanting more fly-fishing than golf. No longer working downtown, he also gave up his spot at the Santa Barbara Club, but never did give up his “meetings” at Joe’s Café, always a favorite haunt well into his last years.
His interests and knowledge spread wide and deep. He was a meticulously natural student no matter what hobby or avocation, delving deeply into detail. He was a technical bridge player, found peculiar joy in doing his own tax returns, had a studied fascination with English royal lineage and thrived on the weekly argumentative McLaughlin Group.
A master in the darkroom and behind the lens, he taught his daughters to love photography, and you’d often find him hiding behind a camera documenting his and Genny’s rather raucous parties. Later in life, he mastered the computer and Photoshop to organize his photo collection. He kept an eclectic library of music and most days you could hear it pouring out of his study, from Benny Goodman and Al Jolson to the Beatles and Willie Nelson. The opera ‘Carmen’ was a standard. He read broadly, and every night in bed before falling asleep.
However, his real passion was along any body of water with fishing rod in hand. In ’65 they bought a cabin in Mammoth, where the extended family continues to commune. With retirement, Bob and Genny spent the entire six months of trout season there every year. Bob was instrumental in getting Hot Creek designated catch-and-release. Those long days on that river casting his home-tied flies, were the moments Bob truly felt at ease.
He remained a penetrating, curious mind until his final few weeks. He looked inward deeply and teared up easily. He had a clear sense of ethics. He was analytical with self and with others. At the dinner table, with hard blues Bessie Smith blaring or crooning Bing, a couple gin martinis under belt, he’d throw out any political controversy, or explain his take on Proust, or perhaps quote Shakespeare with a razor sharp stare: “the fault lies not in the stars, but in thyself...” The Socratic Method was his method, often to the chagrin of his children and grandchildren, not to mention unsuspecting guests. Other times he would lean back with look of warm bemusement admiring his offspring and closest friends.
Perhaps his biggest legacy was the wonderful home he and Genny provided as the central gathering place for five generations of family and a myriad of friends. A home with doors always open and welcoming. A home where you would not want for food or drink. A home that flowed seamlessly with the beach and sea beyond.
Bob was predeceased by his beloved wife of 68 years Genevieve Manset Thornburgh, brother Richard Haines Thornburgh and sister Sally Moore Thornburgh. He is survived by his daughters: Yvonne Neumann (Andy), Suzy Blossom, Anny Annable (John) & Mimi Sheehan (Tom); grandchildren: Emilie Neumann (Sameer Pandya), Mya Thornburgh (Michel Brewer), Tarek Neumann, Chris Blossom, Chase Blossom, Abby Blossom & Genny Rose Annable; great-grandsons Ravi & Ishan Pandya; cousin Michael Haines and many nieces and nephews.
We send a sincere thank you to the exceptional people who helped take care of Bob through his final months. He became fond of each of you in different ways, and as a generous audience he got to tell and retell his life’s tales, for which we are deeply grateful.
He was quick to tell his daughters and caregivers that being old and infirm did not preclude him from deciding what was best for himself. We each learned to respect this in our own ways. As a reminder he would recite “Invictus” from memory, as he did the day prior to his death. “…I thank whatever gods may be, for my unconquerable soul. In the fell clutch of circumstance I have not winced nor cried aloud… And yet the menace of the years finds and shall find me unafraid… I am the master of my fate. I am the captain of my soul.”
He asked that he be allowed to die in his own bed. We were able to honor that simple request.
“Now cracks a noble heart. Good night sweet prince; and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest…”
Please join us in celebration of Bob’s life on Sat Feb 18. For details contact one of his daughters.