Léni Fé Bland: 1915-2014

Leni Fé Bland
Paul Wellman

Léni was born and educated in England and would have celebrated her 100th birthday on January 10. Her father was a gifted musician, and all three of his daughters were well educated, as well as talented vocalists who enjoyed classical music greatly. Léni had tremendous mathematical abilities, and she eventually trained and qualified as a chartered accountant (the British equivalent of the certified public accountant).

Her first husband died at a relatively young age, and her son died at the age of 50 of multiple sclerosis. She is survived by her daughter, Valerie van Gelder, of Paris and Santa Monica, and her grandson, Alexis van Gelder, of San Francisco, a graduate of the University of Colorado at Boulder and currently a lieutenant colonel in the Air Force Reserves.

Léni enjoyed many sports, including horseback riding — despite enduring a serious fall and recuperating from a broken back — golf, walking (it was more like speed walking with her!), and swimming, a sport she loved and did almost every day until the tender age of 97. She was also a lifelong dedicated and skilled bridge player. Her mathematical abilities undoubtedly contributed to her formidable skills at the game and made her a favorite partner at her bridge club. And she never needed a telephone book — she preferred to memorize often-used telephone numbers after listening to them spoken to her once and repeating them back twice.

Her training as a chartered accountant was put to good use during the Second World War, and she became the managing partner of her firm during that period. Her second husband — Baron Léon Fé Bland — was a Swiss national, and they maintained their primary residence in Switzerland for many years. Sometime in 1984, they decided to build a second home in Montecito, seeking a balmier climate for the winter. After the baron died, she kept their home in Montecito as her primary residence. There she established the Léni Fé Bland Foundation in 1992. She also maintained a modest pied-à-terre in London for many years. The administration of the Léni Fé Bland Fund was transferred to the Santa Barbara Foundation in 2013.

While her own foundation was her major philanthropic priority, Léni was also a generous supporter of many other causes in Santa Barbara. These included the Music Academy of the West, the Santa Barbara Symphony, and the State Street Ballet company, which she encouraged Rodney Gustafson to found in 1994 — serving on the board and as treasurer for its first decade. She was also a generous patron of SEE International, the Rescue Mission, Transition House, the UCSB Arts & Lectures program, and Casa Esperanza. In 1998, she became one of the founding boardmembers of the Santa Barbara Center for the Performing Arts, serving for a decade until after the completion of the renovation of the Granada Theatre and its gala reopening in March 2008. She also served as the cochair of the Ensemble Theatre Company for the New Vic Theatre’s renovation campaign, which opened anew for the Ensemble’s 2013-2014 season.

Léni Fé Bland’s wisdom and experience served countless boards and committees by making them more purposeful and successful in achieving their goals. Her charm and dignity enhanced any dinner party or event she attended, and her well-informed mind and wittiness enlivened any conversation. She will be greatly missed by so many in our community and remembered with great respect, love, and gratitude.

As a friend, she was a delight — thoughtful, prompt, caring, honest, and honorable. She was forthright, insightful, intelligent, and well read, and she always maintained an optimistic outlook on life. She was one of a kind and truly unforgettable.


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