Harris Meisel, MD
1932 - 2018
Dr. Harris Meisel, known as “Bubs” to his family and friends has passed away at age 85. Physician, Artist, Poet, Musician, NCAA Champion Fencer, Founder of Rehabilitation Medicine on the Central Coast of California, Medical Director of the Memorial Rehabilitation Hospital (later called the Rehabilitation Institute of Santa Barbara and what is today Cottage Rehabilitation Hospital), beloved father, husband to Fredda, and dear friend to many. A true renaissance man whose motto was “You can never go wrong doing the right thing.”
Dr. Meisel was surrounded by his family and the remarkable caregivers of Senior Planning Services, Assisted Hospice, and Valle Verde Community following a 15 year challenging dance with Parkinson’s Disease and Lewy Body Dementia. He bestowed a final gift to his life love, Fredda, by giving peace in his passing on her birthday, February 23, after 60 years of wedded bliss, and a 70 year friendship.
His many contributions to medicine are inscribed in the Archives of The American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation in Chicago which describe his work as “… exemplary sensitivity and awareness given to the needs, worth, and employability of disabled persons lending significant contributions to the growth of Rehabilitation Medicine in the United States”.
Dr. Meisel pursued art and sculpture at the Tyler School of Fine Arts in Philadelphia before attaining his Medical Degree at the University of Pennsylvania. While serving with the Public Health Service in the Four Corners of the Navajo Reservation, (1960 – 1962) he began a monthly air flights’ program between Craig Rehabilitation Hospital in Denver, Colorado and the Navajo Reservation hospital in Shiprock, New Mexico.
After serving as Chief Resident in Rehabilitation Medicine at Stanford University’s Hospital, Dr. Meisel was invited to Santa Barbara to develop a Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation hospital on the grounds of the, then, Santa Barbara County Hospital. The vacant former County’s tuberculosis ward was transformed as Dr. Meisel incorporated Art and Music into rehabilitation medical care. His practice of doing artwork with patients and hanging their paintings over the General Hospital’s marred walls …began what is now Santa Barbara’s tradition of bringing art into the hospital….now described as “Art as Healing”.
In 1985, Dr. Meisel was named Physician of the Year by the California Governor’s Committee for Employment of the Handicapped, and shortly thereafter, honored with the Santa Barbara New Press’ Lifetime Achievement Award, for his contributions to his community. He touched many lives in Santa Barbara, and enlisted forces under the Americans with Disability Act to outfit and revamp Santa Barbara’s public buildings, streets, and sidewalks appropriately for universal use, inclusive of people with disabilities.
Outside of his professional life, Bubs embraced family and found wonder in all living things. He could make whistles out of branches from willow and elderberry trees and would joyfully carve fruit into whimsical animal characters. Along with Gary Chafe and Armin “Arnie” Mueller, he was one of the “Three Artist Musketeers” who founded Santa Barbara’s Annual Holiday “YES Store”.
Bubs illustrated music album covers, including those of KiD’n Together (music by his children and inspired by his grandson Matthew). He loved singing with his friends and his son Alex in the Santa Barbara Barbershop Chorus. He whistled, hummed, and sang constantly. He fought passionately and successfully in order to preserve the San Marcos Foothills.
Dr. Meisel is survived by his best buddy and wife, Fredda, brother Paul(Joni), sister-in-law Judy, children Melody(Steve), Alex(Jacqui), and Ben(Laura), grandchildren Matthew, Joshua, Lea, and Sophia. He was predeceased by his father Alex, mother Sophie, and brother Fred.
There will be a celebration of Dr. Meisel’s life at the Alpha Resource Center over Memorial Day Weekend for those who wish to bring a long-stem flower, have a chance to share about Dr. Meisel’s life, and be together in community. Should you wish to connect prior to the May celebration, please request to join our Facebook Group Page entitled “Love View – Celebrating Dr. Harris “Bubs” Meisel”.
If you desire to reach out to the Meisel family with love, in lieu of cards or flowers, please consider a donation to the Alpha Resource Center (ARC), which provides support, information and life enrichment for families of children with developmental disabilities of all ages, including his beloved grandson Matthew, as well as teen and adult recreation, life skills training for adults, and art trainings and exhibitions at the ARC Art Gallery “Slingshot”.
Feel free to send messages of support but please understand that there may be limited ability to respond as we process this as a family.