Claudia Madsen died in her sleep on the morning of Sunday, April 15, two weeks after being diagnosed with cancer. She spent her final weeks surrounded by the love of family and friends.
Claudia was born on July 1, 1921, in Lexington, Missouri, and in 1929 moved to Santa Barbara, where she attended Roosevelt Elementary and Santa Barbara High School. Claudia’s many achievements included a BA in journalism from Stanford University and an MA from UC Berkeley in anthropology.
Claudia was married to William Madsen in 1946, and they spent their honeymoon in the then-tiny Mexican fishing village of Acapulco. Together, Bill and Claudia spent their postgraduate life in remote Mexican villages conducting anthropological studies and archaeological excavations. Claudia was able to overcome the deep suspicions of the villagers of Tepepan, and they openly shared their knowledge of native healing arts and witchcraft.
Bill and Claudia never skipped a beat when their children, Karen and Christopher, were born. They continued their travels to Mexico, drying diapers by hanging them out the window of the family station wagon while negotiating dirt roads in seldom-traveled-areas of the country. Claudia and Bill’s passion for seeking out the less explored parts of this planet and getting to know the local people there led them to many exotic destinations. Claudia and Bill always took their children-and later their grandchildren-along on these adventures, saying people who left their kids behind missed a lot of life’s pleasure. Our most treasured family time together was the annual family vacation to Kona.
Claudia valued her family above all else. Her children always knew how much she loved them. They knew that she would be there for them through life’s many challenges. Her grandchildren knew Claudia as Tutu (Hawaiian for grandmother), and the love between them sparkled like sunshine on sea.
A celebration of Claudia Madsen’s life will be held at the Cabrillo Arts Center-located at 1118 East Cabrillo Boulevard-on May 26 at
3 p.m. In lieu of flowers, please send donations to the Citizens Planning Association (916 Anacapa St., CA 93101).
: and from Barney Brantingham
Right up to the end, Claudia Madsen was a fighter. But always with a wide, warm smile. Calling her a longtime civic activist doesn’t do justice to this remarkable, courageous woman I knew for so many decades. She cared passionately and worked tirelessly for Santa Barbara betterment and intelligently protested projects she felt would compromise the town’s beauty and quality of life.
Some activists flame out after a few years, but Claudia’s sense of outrage burned steadily. Even in her last weeks of life, Claudia-who died last week at 85-wrote to me warning that the “monstrosities rising up on Chapala Street will destroy Santa Barbara’s uniqueness.”
“She was very dedicated and very thorough, and indignant at any kind of subterfuge; at getting something through contrary to zoning and sound planning,” said an old friend, retired News-Press reporter Bob Sollen.
But Claudia was far from being “against” everything. She and others strongly opposed Fess Parker’s early plans for what is now the DoubleTree Resort on Cabrillo Boulevard. But after Parker revised the plans to create a lower-profile hotel with wide front setbacks from the street, Claudia became cochair of a committee to support the plan at a 1985 election. She joined those who felt that it was as good as the town was going to get and who felt that future incarnations might be much worse.
“She was very active and very effective, but she was very low-key and never was trying to make a big splash,” Sollen observed. “I don’t recall seeing her without a smile on her face. She was very serious about what she did, but she wasn’t serious about herself.”
Claudia entered city politics in 1973 when the Citizens’ Coalition-a grassroots movement-set out to replace the pro-growth City Council with a slate of environmental candidates. Claudia was press aide for candidate Nyle Utterback, and got Pearl Chase’s endorsement for the platform. They won.
Claudia was far from a lone-wolf protester. She was vice president of the Citizens Planning Association in the 1970s and chair of its land use committee. She was also president of the Foothill Preservation League (1974-78) and of the Allied Neighborhoods Association (1978-79). She served on the city’s Downtown-Waterfront Vision Committee in 1997, was a member of the Committee for Santa Barbara, and co-authored the 1998 committee report to the City Council, “The Future of Our Waterfront.”
After former News-Press editor Jerry Roberts received an ethics award following his resignation, Claudia wrote: “Congratulations to Jerry and all the Magnificent Nine on your ethics award from the Society of Professional Journalists. It’s richly deserved. The New-Press is a community resource with a duty to protect the public’s right to know. It’s not a toy for gagging reporters or killing local news. I don’t think this community will stand for the News-Press travesty.”
As a former United Press International reporter covering San Francisco, Monterey, and the California Legislature in Sacramento, Claudia spoke out in Santa Barbara newspapers’ letter columns and in my own column. And she knew the territory, having arrived here as a child and graduated from Santa Barbara High in 1938.
In 2001 the Citizen’s Planning Association awarded her its Community Service Award and Representative Lois Capps presented her with a congressional certificate for outstanding community service. In 2004 she became a member of the city’s Neighborhood Preservation Ordinance update committee. On April 17, the City Council adjourned in her honor.
I think of Claudia as a warrior, but a happy warrior.