I have had the fortune of knowing Mary Lanzisera Partridge since she moved to Santa Barbara in 1998 when she was 85 years old. She was the most remarkable, impressive, and memorable character I have known. Mary had a refinement and classic sensibility that created an aura of importance in everything she did and everyone she engaged. She may have been the originator of “tough love,” and her feisty passion for living and her indomitable family loyalty kept her lucid and inspiring until the last moments of her life. Everyone felt remembered and more substantial in her presence. Her social memory was impeccable and she was one of the few people who always extended her reach beyond her own aches and pains.
Mary was born February 1, 1913, at midnight, the second of four children from an Italian immigrant family in Queens, New York. Hers was a large, closely knit family, with aunts, uncles, and cousins all living nearby, all helping one another as best they could. Her parents separated when she was young and her mother, Angela Rafaela, began working as a seamstress in Manhattan’s garment district. Raised amid economic hard times and on the tough social turf of New York City, Mary learned the importance of social justice and education early on. She was the quintessential self-made woman, who used sheer willpower to turn even the most difficult situations into an advantage. A great beauty, she always looked her best, applying the sewing skills her mother taught her to create elegant clothes, a talent she demonstrated all her life. Everyone in the family had to work, but Mary took on extra jobs to help her oldest sister make it through college.
After graduating business school, she worked as a bookkeeper near the Aqueduct Racetrack, where she met and fell in love with John Partridge, a well-known horse trainer at the time. For the next 20 years, they had an adventurous life, traveling around the United States to cities where John raced his stable of thoroughbreds. Everywhere they went, they brought their only child, Marianne, with them. Mary worked as the bookkeeper for the racing stable and even harder as a wife and mother, maintaining an atmosphere of beauty and culture, whether the family was living in a hotel or in one of the two homes they had in New York and Florida. During the last five years of John’s life, they retired to Miami.
After her husband’s death, Mary resumed her art history studies. She worked at the University of Miami Lowe Art Museum and later at the Villa Vizcaya Museum and Gardens in Miami for 32 years, where she was president of docents and volunteers.
In 1998, at 85 years old, Mary moved to California to live with her daughter and her son-in-law, Jim Poett, on his family’s ranch, bringing her large collection of Christmas ornaments with her. With amazing speed and characteristic determination, she adjusted to her role as a ranch woman, helping her daughter cook for cowboys, baking cakes for every possible social occasion, playing the lottery each week in the hope of getting enough money to pave the long dirt road to her new home, and becoming the family dog whisperer, taking care of as many as seven dogs at a time.
At the same time, she began an intense study of Santa Barbara history and trained as a docent at the Santa Barbara Historical Society. She also volunteered for the Trust for Historic Preservation as a guide at Casa de la Guerra, where she gave tours every Thursday until she retired at 95. She particularly loved taking children through the museums and worked hard at finding ways to make history come alive for them.
A master of social graces, she never let an opportunity pass to make sure that her close family was at their best. She was seldom seen without her signature pearls, and her aesthetics carried into the way she elegantly spoke (when she wasn’t lecturing one of her “errant” family members or pets).
Mary was a devout Catholic, a member of Old Mission Santa Inés, who demonstrated her faith by her good works and her truly compassionate views. She kept involved mentally, emotionally, and spiritually with the concerns of our country and the world. A lifelong Democrat and strong supporter of humanitarian causes, she never failed to take her civic responsibilities as her sacred duty.
Mary passed away peacefully on November 7, a few hours after midnight. On her last evening, family and friends surrounded her, singing her softly into her heavenly body. Mary is survived by daughter Marianne Partridge, editor-in-chief and co-owner of The Santa Barbara Independent; son-in-law Jim Poett; granddaughter Elizabeth Poett and her husband, Austin Campbell; and grandson Justin Poett. Happily, Mary lived long enough to learn the recent, glorious news of her coming great-grandchild.
Mary was equally devoted to her circle of friends, and the vast network of Marianne and Jim’s kinship group. I, like so many, have been blessed to be under the exquisite umbrella of her constant and protective love and will benefit from that brave shelter the rest of my days.