Amelia Frank: 1936-2012

My friend Amelia Frank died the day before Thanksgiving from complications of heart surgery. She was 76 years old. She was not a very public person, but her life was lived with the public good in mind.

She was, primarily, a good, dear friend to many in this community and elsewhere around California. She was thoughtful and tactful, caring and giving, charming and loving. She grew up in Los Angeles, after being born in New York, and came of age in the 1950s — a child of the beatnik and McCarthyite era. She was a folkie, hanging out at Will Geer’s place in Topanga Canyon, listening to Woody Guthrie, Odetta, Ernie Lieberman, and many, many others. She remembered her English teacher at Fairfax High School being fired mid-semester because she was a union activist and would not name names before an investigative committee.

Amelia Frank
Courtesy Photo

Amelia, born of Jewish parents who were New Deal Democrats, became — like so many others of that time — a left-wing Democrat and, later, a feminist. She studied sociology at UCLA and nearly completed her doctoral degree (“ABD” it’s called — all but degree). She arrived in Santa Barbara in 1968 with her then-husband, Lloyd Fitts, who came to teach at UCSB’s nascent Sociology Department. In the early 1970s, she taught UCSB’s first women’s studies course — probably among the first in the nation — and was given a tough time by Isla Vista coeds who were cutting their teeth on feminism: Amelia was “too nice,” they thought. Yes, she always was …

In 1973, Amelia joined sociologists Harvey Molotch and Rich Appelbaum and environmentalist Paul Relis in doing the research for the Impacts of Growth — one of the world’s first environmental impact reports before anyone even knew what that was. The study became the basis for the City of Santa Barbara’s growth-management policies. Amelia was very proud of her work on that groundbreaking study — as she had every right to be.

She and Lloyd divorced in the 1970s, and she met Eric Holmberg at a dinner at a friend’s on Thanksgiving Day in 1974. He became her devoted partner and husband, and he deeply mourns her loss. She was also a dear Aunt Amelia to three nephews and two nieces, to six great-nieces and a great-nephew, and to two great-great-nephews — all of whom will miss her greatly.

Amelia worked diligently in helping to create the University-Community Childcare Center at UCSB in the 1970s. Realizing that her innate caring for the lives of others would stand her in good stead as a counselor, she set about getting training and certificates. She interned at the Night Counseling Center and worked at UCSB’s Counseling Center, obtaining her MFCC degree and therapist license.

When an Office of Ombudsman was created at the university, Geoff Wallace was appointed, and Amelia was named associate ombudsman. Again, most people had never heard the word and were totally unfamiliar with the concept. Amelia and Geoff worked cooperatively for 17 years to mediate and help resolve conflicts among students, staff, and faculty — everything from grading disputes to sexual harassment complaints (another new, unknown concept that Amelia helped teach us about!) in a process that sought to minimize legal conflict and maximize resolution. Her exceptional warmth, wit, receptivity, capacity for listening, and gently delivered wisdom helped her leave a legacy in the Ombuds office that will be long remembered.

In the community at large, Amelia’s caring and progressive approach caused her to be involved with a number of community organizations. She contributed annually to the Fund for Santa Barbara, the Santa Barbara Democratic Party, and generously to many local candidates. Amelia was a founding (and ongoing) member of Santa Barbara County Action Network (SB CAN). The politics of SB CAN, specifically the interconnection of housing, open space, and transportation (HOT), while “thinking globally and acting locally” jibed very well with Amelia’s outlook and values.

Amelia loved animals; she would go see almost any movie if it was about a cat or dog, even a children’s movie! She contributed generously to ASPCA (American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) and the World Wildlife Federation and was a sponsor for animals at Santa Barbara’s Animal Shelter Assistance Program. She was, for nearly 20 years, a loyal reader at Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic and learned Italian at Santa Barbara City College well enough to record material in Italian! She never really played any kind of public role but was one of the many in our community who live their values, teach others, and influence the ambience of the community. She did it better than most …

But above all, she was a friend to those in her circle. She could be called upon in time of need, she shared all our joys and sorrows, she loved an evening of dinner and a movie with friends and her Friday mah-jongg game, and she could be counted on — in all ways. She is mourned and missed by her family and friends and by all who knew her.


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