Gloria Rossi Menedes | Credit: Courtesy

Gloria Rossi Menedes: 1946-2020

Big Love. The words that best describe the embracing light and expansive spirit of Gloria Rossi Menedes, who lived her life with the fierce determination of a truly evolved soul. She was an extraordinary healer, a generous host, talented performer, loyal friend, devoted mother to her children Thea and Alexei, and supportive wife to her husband George Menedes.

Santa Barbara residents who know their history will note that Gloria was born on Pearl Chase’s birthday, and she was very proud of that connection with another strong Scorpio, determined to leave a mark and make this a better place to live without wasting a moment’s time. In mythological terms, Pearl was a modern-day Minerva, engaged in art and commerce and community affairs, while Gloria was a latter-day Hestia in her time here, largely focused on home and hearth, raising a family, extending her gracious hospitality into the community, as a restaurateur, and as an accomplished actress with a triumphant return to the stage in a local production of The Rose Tattoo.

During her childhood, father Tony Rossi was the two-term mayor of Millbrae, CA; he passed his Italian passion and persuasive leadership skills on to his daughter. She grew up confident, strong and bright, with the drive to use her God-given gifts to meet every challenge, achieve every dream. Smart as a whip, she pursued her education throughout her life, exploring her creative interests without regard to geographic boundaries. She studied drama at Syracuse University; Italian at the University of Padua in Italy; traditional Chinese medicine at the Santa Barbara College of Traditional Chinese Medicine; drama and the classics at Royal Holloway, University of London. 

The accomplished student became the teacher: She taught through the British Institute of Homeopathy in Spain; explored healing methods with Louise Hay; hosted seminars with the noted spiritual author and researcher Jean Houston through her foundation; explored the mysteries of water with a host of international devotees.

Her sense of spirituality extended to the wisdom of the ages: She was well-schooled in the classics, steeped in Greek mythology, and she spoke many languages, including Italian, Spanish, Catalan, Modern and Ancient Greek.

Gloria’s notion of home transcended shelter: She and George transformed a barn in Yankee Farm into a welcoming home filled with light and love; it was eclectically furnished with a well-worn church pew, her mother’s prize crystal lamps and a collection of treasures collected, salvaged and repurposed over the years. The spot was a gathering place on an acre of land — complete with an ephemeral pond during rainy months — where her friends from every facet of her life would meet, greet, and get to know each other by sharing company, anecdotes, and most of all, food.

Everyone learned pretty quickly that bringing food to Gloria’s was like bringing coals to Newcastle. She was the Queen of the Kitchen, able to whip up a healthy meal, a plate of appetizers, a sumptuous dessert to feed a group in no time, with simple ingredients. It was a skill she cultivated at home and put on full display in a succession of successful Greek-themed restaurants they established wherever they lived: Greek Out in Venice Beach and Santa Monica; Zeus & Co. in Santa Barbara’s Paseo Nuevo and Isla Vista; Sa Finca in Mallorca, Spain, and Blue: Greek on Granite in Ashland, Oregon. Each of them featured healthy Greek and Mediterranean foods, distinctive décor that celebrated the beauty of the Greek islands, and healthy, creative approaches to traditional recipes.

Gloria’s career began onstage. She was profiled in a lengthy article in New York Magazine where she was described as an “actress, dancer and lover of the night.” She was the resident belly dancer at a club called Shiraz in the Village and played the title role in a production of Lysistrata. She received critical acclaim when she appeared as Mazeppa, a bugle-playing stripper in Gypsy on Broadway with Angela Lansbury. After her show-stopping belly dance that drew standing ovations in The Desert Song, critic Earl Wilson proclaimed her “Stomach of the Year,” and resident sketch artist Al Hirschfeld drew her for the New York Times. Returning to the West coast, she appeared as a guest star on the notable Emmy-winning “Venus Butterfly” episode of L.A. Law.

When the family moved to Santa Barbara so she could pursue her studies in Chinese Medicine, she rediscovered her love of performance. Although she juggled family and work responsibilities, Gloria returned to the stage in The Ensemble Theater’s production of Tennessee Williams’ The Rose Tattoo, directed by local legend, the late Robert Grande Weiss. The Los Angeles Times gave her a rave review and she won The Independent’s Indy award in her inspired turn as the recently widowed Serafina in the romantic comedy. She also performed locally as Bessie in Marvin’s Room and as the sorceress Medea, a harrowing experience that also featured her son and husband in the Greek tragedy.

A single continent was just not enough to hold her interest or her restless spirit that Gloria heeded like few do. The dawn of the New Millennium spurred her decision to relocate the family to Europe, where they explored their options variously in Greece, Italy, England and eventually settled on Spain, where they operated a vacation retreat, restaurant and organic garden located on the island of Mallorca. She encouraged friends to visit no matter where she lived.

But every once in a while, Gloria would return to the States, to Santa Barbara, for a visit, taking up where she left off, as if she never moved away. She would arrive with a great smile, her warm embrace, and the energy of loving life that characterized all of her days. Joyful conversation would follow, and always, the invitation to adventure — that might include a spur-of-the-moment long walk at her beloved Hendry’s Beach, a trip around town to view the St. Francis murals in town or scouring local thrift stores in the hunt for just the right packable skirt.

Gloria focused, and made everyone feel like they were the most important person in her life. As much as she followed her bliss, she enthusiastically supported others in their quest as well. She dreamed big and loved bigger. She energetically, memorably, used her time well.

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