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The S.B. Questionnaire: Barbara Carroll

Talking Tradition, Volunteering, and Law with La Presidenta of Old Spanish Days Fiesta

Photo: Paul Wellman Barbara Carroll at her home in Santa Barbara. (July 19, 2019)

“It’s very emotional for me,” says Barbara Carroll about being La Presidenta of Santa Barbara’s premier cultural event, Old Spanish Days Fiesta, which happens this week. “I’ve been doing this since I was a baby. I love the traditions. I have an emotional attachment to all of the different aspects.”  

Barbara began volunteering for the annual celebration in 1986, when her aunt asked her to be the parade announcer. “I was on the front lines of the parade,” Barbara recalls.   

This year’s theme, which was chosen by Barbara, is the “Spirit of Community,“ which focuses on the volunteers who make the event possible. “We’re running this enormous undertaking on everyone’s spare time,” she explains. “Over 1,000 volunteers donate countless hours to make Fiesta happen. Each aspect is its own little company, from the rodeo to the mercados, the parade to all the pageantry and parties.”  

Barbara is also proud of the economic vitality that Fiesta brings to Santa Barbara. The mercados are a fundraising platform for other nonprofits, each booth benefitting a different organization.  “It raises funds for something as essential as a safety equipment for a local school,” she explains. “It directly benefits the community. It makes a tangible impact to people who live here.”

Born and raised in Santa Barbara, Barbara works as an attorney at Clinkenbeard, Ramsey, Spackman & Clark. She graduated from Bishop Garcia Diego High School, and then started at UCSB before dropping out to work. “I stopped playing at being a student,” she admits. “I was phoning it in.”   

In 1992, she graduated with a history degree from San Diego State University, then worked at Presidio Personnel for a couple years to save money for law school. “I always wanted to do law,” she explains. “It’s an academic profession, always engaging your mind, plus I love helping people. I’m the only lawyer in my family.”  

She earned her law degree from the Northwestern School of Law of Lewis & Clark College in 1997. Between 1998 and 1999, she worked for the Santa Barbara Public Defender’s office. “I really liked it,” she recalls. “I like doing criminal law. It’s eye-opening. Attorneys there were extremely collegial and wonderfully helpful.”  

She continued in criminal defense as well as some civil rights litigation for Sanger and Swysen from 1999 to 2003. At Clinkenbeard, Ramsey, Spackman & Clark, she focuses on medical malpractice and defense and business litigation.

In 2006, Barbara joined the Old Spanish Days board, which she calls a “labor of love for everyone involved — there’s so much planning and preparation.” Since last September, she’s been taking horseback riding lessons in preparation for the big parade on Friday. “I will be riding the horse Chino,” she confides. “I’ll be the eighth president to ride him.”

La Presidenta Barbara Carroll answers the Proust Questionnaire.

What is your current state of mind?
Anticipatory! I am nearing the end of an amazing journey. The week of Fiesta happens near the end of my term as Presidenta, and the next week will be full of fun events — parties and parades and pageants — and I get to be part of all of it. I have volunteered for Fiesta for many years and it’s an honor to have his opportunity and I don’t want to miss a thing.

What do you like most about your job?
I love that I am always learning. The law evolves and I need to keep up, and I work in a practice area that requires me to learn about so many different things, unique to each case. Also, I like that I’m helping people.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Charles Schultz got it right: “Happiness is a warm puppy.”

What is your greatest fear?
I would have thought it was the dark unfathomable places in the ocean where you can’t see and danger lurks in every direction, but it turns out to be lizards.

Who do you most admire? 
I admire a lot of people. When I first read this question, George Washington popped into my head — he wasn’t perfect but he had the wisdom to understand that and be what this country needed when we were first starting out, and made sure our democratic republic got going. The next person that popped into my head was Mother Theresa, for all of the million reasons that made her an inspiring role model.

What is your greatest extravagance?
These days it’s Fiesta dresses! But generally it’s purses.

What is the quality you most like in people?
I like kindness best. It’s amazing how a simple act of kindness can transform your day. For me, I don’t even have to be the person on the receiving end. I can read about it or see it unfold on social media and it can make my whole day. 

What is the quality you most dislike in people?
I dislike people who stir the pot to create chaos and hardship for others.

What do you most value in friends?
Their acceptance. I am blessed with amazing friends and they are there for me whatever I need, and it’s mutual.

What is your most marked characteristic?
I think most would agree that I am forthright.

Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
If I’m being honest, it’s an f-bomb. By a lot. 

Which talent would you most like to have?
There are a few, but first and foremost would be a great singing voice like Adele or Pink. 

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
Having an auto-immune condition can be quite difficult at times. I wouldn’t mind changing that.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?
I hope I haven’t peaked yet, but in case I have, I’m usually able to keep cool and focused in stressful situations.

Where would you most like to live?
Always Santa Barbara. That’s the thing about growing up here. Second place is Hawaii, third place is Rome.

What is your most treasured possession?
I have a pair of earrings that were my mother’s and she gave them to me out of the blue one day. Every time she saw me wear them, she said how pretty they were. So every time I see them I think of her.

What makes you laugh the most?
I laugh most with my friends, and we laugh about some of the things that we’ve done. I also really enjoy silly. Movies like Galaxy Quest or shows like Spamalot or the Mystery of Irma Vep are hilarious every single time, in my opinion.

What is your motto?
I guess I should get one? The two that resonate with me most are “Just keep swimming” and “Be excellent to each other.”

Which historical figure do you most identify with?
I’m not really sure, but maybe Margaret Thatcher.

On what occasion do you lie?
To save someone’s feelings when hearing the truth won’t help or change anything for that person.

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