Loretta Marie Wilson: 1937-2012

Fashionably late to almost everything, Loretta departed earth much too soon on May 26, 2012. She always intended to write her own obituary and share her thoughts and the joys of her life, but must have found something more interesting to do. Loretta was an artist, a world traveler, and the most incredible mother and friend. Below is a summary of our discussions:

I have had a wonderful life. I was the only child of Minnie (Gattaino), a Sicilian of immigrant parents, and Benjamin Fabbro, who came to Santa Barbara from a small town in the mountains of Udine in Northern Italy. That was at the time, and still is in some places, considered a mixed marriage. My father was handsome and kind, and when they met in the 1930s, he was a partner in a Santa Barbara speakeasy. During the Depression, my parents left to find work, and I was born and lived my early childhood in the North Beach area of San Francisco. Those memories of the old, crowded walk-up flats made a lasting impression. I never had any desire to live in anything old again.

Loretta Marie Wilson
Courtesy Photo

How lucky I was to return to Santa Barbara, and grow up with my grandparents, uncles, and family friends near. The gatherings for celebrations, playing cards and Sunday dinners, homemade wine, fresh seafood, vegetables and fowl from the back yard, and everything prepared to perfection, and always music. I loved racing my bike down Milpas to the beach for an ocean swim, and renting horses and riding on the sand.

I completed elementary school here and attended Santa Barbara Junior High and Santa Barbara High School. I found the social constraints of the 1950s suffocating, and my time at UCSB was one of personal liberation as well as intellectual and artistic stimulation. There I met my ex-husband and friend, John R. Wilson, who preceded me in death. I majored in fine arts and taught art at Santa Barbara Junior High for over 40 years. What an amazing time that was. I adored my students, all of them.

I have no regrets. I have traveled the world, and I have had the pleasure to be an artist and to share that with many students over the years. I have made the most incredible friendships, and my two children, Lizzy and Johnny, have been my best friends. So, my friends: Let’s eat, drink, dance, and be merry. Squeeze every ounce of joy, happiness, and excitement out of this life and share with others, and then, like me, you can say, “I have no regrets.”

Now a few thoughts from her offspring, who will for once have the last word:

As a single mother, “Ma” raised us like free-range chickens, giving us the freedom to explore our world, be creative in our thinking, and screw things up at times. The basic rules were as follows: 1) There was no specific curfew, but you’d better not get home too late; 2) Don’t be an idiot or do anything stupid, and if you do, don’t get caught; and, 3) Don’t tell me you’re sorry — you shouldn’t have done it in the first place.

She was a contradiction, somehow balancing the Depression-era work ethic, and responsibility to her career and kids, with an insatiable appetite for adventure and sheer fun. She took us to places that would have earned her an F in parenting: An 8-year-old drawing nudes on Mountain Drive, horror-film marathons at the drive-in until 4 a.m., ditch days during grammar school to visit the Getty, and a 16th-birthday lunch with raw seafood, white wine, and postprandial aperitif. We returned the favor. Our friends became hers, hers ours, and our small family grew exponentially, enriching all of our lives.

Loretta was gifted with extreme compassion and social grace. She had the unique ability to engage anyone from a Moroccan cab driver to a doctor of proctology with her wit and her infectious laugh.

Loretta died in her Mesa home of 44 years, in her own bed, surrounded by her family and dearest friends. She is “succeeded” by her daughter, Liz Wilson, son Johnny Wilson, and her two dogs.

A celebration of her life will be Sunday, June 10, 2-6 p.m. at the west end of Leadbetter Beach. All are invited to attend. In lieu of flowers, please consider a donation to the Santa Barbara Humane Society, Return to Freedom American Wild Horse Sanctuary, or any organization for the betterment of the treatment of wild, farm, or domestic animals.


Please note this login is to submit events or press releases. Use this page here to login for your Independent subscription

Not a member? Sign up here.