Ross McMurry: 1939-2020

Credit: Courtesy

I lost my friend this week. It still hasn’t quite set in. We were supposed to have lunch on Friday, like we do most weeks.

Ross and I met about two decades ago. I’m a building contractor, and he owned buildings. It started out pretty much an owner/client relationship in those initial years, providing a steady flow of jobs, and I appreciated the work. As a customer, he was the best, always complimentary of our work and ready to pay. We reciprocated by putting his jobs at the head of the line and taking that extra step to make sure he was pleased with the outcome.

Over time, our relationship grew closer. He was not fond of technology — emails, cell phones, etc. — so I would generally hand deliver his invoices, and we would talk. At some point, we decided to combine those business meetings with lunch. Then it was just meeting for lunch whether there was business to discuss or not. I would pay if I brought him invoices; he would pay if I didn’t — a sort of running joke.

Of course, I learned a lot about Ross during those lunches. Though not a native Santa Barbarian, his family moved to upper De la Vina when he was very young, at a time when State Street was blocked by a walnut grove. He had fond memories of those early years when his parents owned a grocery store.

Though proud of their work ethic, they realized little financial reward in their later years. From a young age, Ross was determined to not let that happen to himself. So, shortly out of high school and still living at home in a trailer behind the house where he grew up, he saved his money and bought his first property, a new duplex in the up-and-coming Isla Vista. This was at a time when the streets were just being paved. As a landlord, he was about the same age as the UCSB students who rented from him. When I think about my own years in I.V. 20-some years later — man, was I a slacker.

One thing I will remember most about Ross was his love for Santa Barbara and its history. Sometimes we would go to different restaurants just for the nostalgic value, such as the Simpson House because of its long history or to check out the new Miramar to see how it compared to when I worked there many summers ago. Though most often you’d find us at the Live Oak just around the corner from his office, where he’d loosen up clients in his old real estate days. He was an avid reader, so sometimes we would exchange books. I recently finished the last one he gave me — the autobiography of T.M. Storke, out of print and signed by the author. Just another example of the kind, generous person Ross was.

Ross and I had lunch last week for the final time. We grabbed a couple cheeseburgers on Stearns Wharf and sat outside — a ritual started when COVID hit. It had been a few weeks since I’d seen him, because he had gotten antsy and taken off in his truck exploring the country. Aside from tinkering around his rental properties, traveling was one of his favorite pastimes. He had been all around the world, and I know it gave him a greater appreciation for his hometown. But in his later years, hanging out with his son, Mark, and grandkids was how he most enjoyed spending time.

His last trip combined both love of family and traveling, as his goal was to visit his birthplace in Oklahoma, where his father had worked for the park service. He told me the house hadn’t changed a bit. I’m glad he accomplished his goal. I will miss my friend.


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