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Jean Kellogg Schuyler: 1927-2019

Jean Kellogg Schuyler peacefully passed away on April 17, 2019, at her home of nearly 65 years. A woman of modest tastes and boundless generosity, she quietly wove her wisdom and support into the fabric of Santa Barbara.

It is relatively easy to sum up Jean’s life philosophy, but comprehending the breadth and depth of how she chose to express her values is daunting. Never one for long speeches, it seems appropriate to capture the essence of Jean in a haiku:

Gentle steps through life
Leading us all from behind
Class act, small ego

John, the youngest of Jean’s four children, spoke for all of us when he said, “Our mother was in the position to be able to have most anything: the best cars, the most elegant clothes, or the latest status symbol du jour. Instead, she chose to live simply, having things because they served a practical purpose rather than to impress. Living her life helping others and serving her community, and doing so with little or no recognition, is a true measure of her character. I will forever be in awe of how she managed to find a meaningful way to help so many people and organizations just because it was the right thing to do for her.”

Jean held several priorities throughout her life: horses, family, wildflowers (including the places they grew), and making the world a better place. They gave her a filter to put her life’s ambitions and actions into perspective.

Born into a well-known Southern California family with strong community ties, Jean spent her early years in Altadena, wandering the foothills and mountains on foot and horseback with her parents and brothers. Developing a lifelong passion for horses, she “trained” her first colt when she was 8 years old — which, in hindsight, she said was “probably not fair to the horse.” She was on horseback at Hearts Therapeutic Equestrian Center just a few weeks before her passing at the age of 91. In between these two points of her life, she was riding whenever she had the chance.

A member of the Santa Barbara County women’s riding group the Sage Hens since 1969, she seldom missed their overnight backcountry rides three times a year. Only if it were raining would she sleep inside a tent. When we were young, she regularly rode to our school, leading a second horse so that one of us children could ride home with her. At the age of 81, while she was cleaning out her corral, she had a stroke that left her in a wheelchair for the rest of her life, except for the treasured moments when she got back on a horse with help from her friends at Hearts.

Jean grew up in a close-knit family. One set of grandparents lived next door, and the other set lived with her for several years. Stories of past relatives and escapades with present ones were everyday events. Dealing with all the internal family dynamics that strong-willed and independent members bring to the table gave Jean a role of being a quiet but forceful and effective peacemaker for her entire life.

Jean’s best friend in high school, Desdy Jackson, set her up with a blind date with Barry Schuyler while she was home from college one summer. Not only did Jean and Barry get married three years later, but Desdy went on to marry Jean’s older brother, thus becoming her sister-in-law. Needless to say, the families stayed close, and cousins were (and still are) good friends. Although Jean and Barry had widely divergent views on the value of horses versus boats, they were closely united in their desire to support the Santa Barbara community and were nearly unstoppable when they worked together.

Jean and Barry also shared a love of the mountains and wild places. They spent days hiking and backpacking in the mountains, particularly the Sierras. Sometimes, just the two of them would go, but often they brought family (all four kids spent many summers in high mountain meadows) and friends. They reveled in sharing fast-flowing streams; clear, starry nights; and the smell of the mountains with everyone they spent time with. And the alpine flowers … ah, the flowers.

Native wildflowers were Jean’s passion. She was well versed in what she was looking at, whether it was from horseback, on foot, or even traveling in the car. She always had a field guide and wanted to know the name of everything. My sister, Ann, recalls Jean shrieking to our father:  “Barry, stop the car! There is a purple flower over there. I don’t know it.” And off she would go, dashing across the field to discover for herself what it was.

Photo: CourtesyJean Schuyler was a horsewoman all her life, and the outdoor life stirred a deep interest in environmental, educational, arts, and health causes, which inevitably flourished with her support.

Jean knew that she had been fortunate with her position in life. She made a conscious decision to follow a simpler path that might have surprised those who didn’t know her well. One could easily consider her lifelong support for environmental, educational, arts, and health causes to be preordained. Her grandfather was friends with John Muir, taking him on his last long trip to Yosemite in 1912; her uncle was friends with Ansel Adams and often spent time hiking with him in the Sierras; her great-great-aunt Ellen Browning Scripps founded Scripps College and Scripps Institution of Oceanography, among her many projects. Jean honored the traditions of her family while defining her own standards and finding her own way of expressing her values. Above all, she lived her values and beliefs.

No task was too small or menial as long as it helped others or the planet; pulling weeds, picking up trash on Cliff Drive, or just stopping in at a friend’s house to say hi and help with a small task was just as important and meaningful to Jean as chairing the board of Planned Parenthood, the Maritime Museum, or the Santa Barbara Foundation. Santa Barbara is known for the great number of nonprofit organizations that the town supports; what is not well known is how many of those groups Jean supported with time, knowledge, and resources. What is known is that number was extraordinarily high and having Jean involved was a catalyst for success.

Jean was an enduring presence in the community despite a debilitating stroke nearly 10 years ago. She was able to live a full and active life, in no small part due to the love and attention she received from her caregivers. Following her stroke, Kate, her younger daughter, remarked, “Being a very involved and active person, Jean was concerned all her life at the thought of being incapacitated. Despite that, she lived her new, different, difficult life with grace and elegance and with a positive attitude and appreciation for what she was able to do.” Even in a wheelchair, Jean had a presence that commanded attention and peacefulness. The key to her happiness? To leave the community and world better than she found it.

A celebration of Jean’s life will take place 3-6 p.m. on Sunday, June 30, on the hilltop at the Santa Barbara Zoo. See jeanschuyler.forevermissed.com for details and to RSVP (yes, please do!). Call (805) 450-2613 with questions. For those who would like to honor Jean, a donation in her name to any of the countless environmental, arts, social, health, or educational organizations that she supported and nurtured would be fitting. A personal commitment to follow her motto of “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” would bring a smile to Jean’s face and joy to her heart.

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