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
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.