Tara Haaland-Ford: 1972-2021

On July 17, 2021, a legal warrior, a mother, a wife, a daughter, a fundraiser for the needy, and a dear friend passed peacefully with her two daughters and husband by her side. She left us with lasting and valuable lessons such as to always lead with your heart and to show limitless compassion for others. She taught us to never just identify a problem that causes suffering and then not do something about it. She taught us, as well, that it’s perfectly all right to get angry but to always channel that anger constructively. Fittingly, she labeled her personal crusade against cancer “Tara Says F#%^ Cancer” or “#TSFC.”

Credit: Courtesy

Tara was diagnosed with stage four colon cancer at age 40, nearly nine years ago. Cancer caught her by complete surprise. After all, practically no one her age gets diagnosed with cancer, especially stage four colon cancer and right out of the blue. She was told back then that she had six months to live, but with two very young daughters and a husband, that was just not acceptable to her, so she resolved to fight it with all her might, and she was mighty. She built a network of doctors, herbalists, nutritionists, and the TSFC Warrior Team to attack cancer from all sides. She received more than 100 chemotherapy treatments and kept the disease at bay for more than eight of those years.

It was never enough, though, to just fight cancer, practice law, and be there for her family. Tara did so much more. As part of her post-diagnosis journey, she helped many others cope with cancer. She wrote a blog about her war on cancer that was rich with information on how to beat it and how to avoid it. “Get a colonoscopy,” she urged everyone around her. “Don’t wait.” She was always ready and willing to provide guidance to people one on one in our community and elsewhere who were battling cancer at its various stages. She also told their stories online and raised money for them. She used her high intellect and boundless energy to make sense of it all and fight to win. And win she did, for much longer than predicted.

She told me more than once that being diagnosed with stage four cancer helped her identify what she should be doing with her time. Of course, she would spend as much quality time with her family and her friends as she could, but she would also fight for causes that she believed in. And there were many. Her commitment and energy for those causes was as infectious as it was limitless, and she was always recruiting.

Notably, Tara spearheaded the successful effort to fight the City of Santa Barbara’s proposed gang injunction. In fact, it was the first gang injunction to be defeated in the nation. Her fight against it began in the spring of 2011 and a year or so after her diagnosis. She was personally responsible for recruiting the pro bono attorneys who, along with a deputy public defender, represented the original 30 or so named defendants who were subject to the proposed injunction.

To support the effort further, she established a consulting relationship with the Southern California ACLU. She served as the group’s liaison to community groups interested in fighting the injunction. She reached out to donors and obtained thousands of dollars in funding for expert witnesses and costs. She organized and appeared at several public forums having to do with the proposed injunction. She connected with local progressive politicians, including our current mayor, Cathy Murillo, who was one of only two city councilmembers who voted against the injunction.

After Judge Colleen Sterne rejected the city’s call for the injunction, in July 2014, the ACLU said they were going to issue a press release about the gang injunction’s defeat. Tara said, “I hope they say that this was a group of local defense attorneys who worked pro bono from start to finish. It is kinda like a fairy tale.”

Tara was one of the founders, along with attorney Jody Kaufman and Dianna Van Wingerden, of the nonprofit Santa Barbara Teen Legal Clinic. The Teen Legal Clinic has three main programs, including pro bono legal representation for youth for certain legal issues such as immigration and academic expulsion/suspension proceedings. Tara believed that by educating and empowering youth, Santa Barbara would be a better place. At the heart of this was Tara’s commitment to Restorative Justice. The recently renamed “Tara Haaland-Ford Restorative Justice Project” aims to bring restorative justice to Santa Barbara’s juvenile and adult criminal justice systems as well as to our schools. The Tara Haaland-Ford Restorative Justice Project seeks to repair the harm of a crime by bringing victims, offenders, and community members together to decide the consequences of the crime committed. The larger effect of the restorative justice process can be transformational.

Tara Haaland-Ford and the leadership of Washington Elementary, 2015-2016. | Credit: Courtesy

Last summer, in furtherance of the teen clinic’s educational program, Tara taught the Street Law curriculum at the Santa Barbara and Ventura colleges of law. Most recently, the clinic gave Zoom presentations on immigration, specifically DACA, and LGBTQ+ legal rights. Their upcoming September presentation will be on restorative justice.

Tara was a standout member of the Santa Barbara bar. In recognition of that, she was awarded both the Legal Community Appreciation Award and the Richard Abbe Humanitarian Award by the Santa Barbara County Bar Association. She was also given the Heroes of Justice Award by the Santa Barbara Legal Aid Foundation. She served as Secretary of the Juvenile Justice Delinquency Prevention Commission, a judge in Teen Court, President of the Barristers’ Club of Santa Barbara, a member of the Board of Directors of the Santa Barbara Bar Association, and she was a founding member and on the Board of Santa Barbara Defenders (Santa Barbara’s private criminal defense bar association).

Tara also, somehow, found time to devote to the Parent Teacher Organization (PTO) at Washington Elementary School. In fact, she was its president (2015-2016), and under her leadership, she conceptualized and helped create the Gwendolyn Strong memorial bench. She also helped change Washington’s annual Jog-a-Thon fundraiser to an all-inclusive Move-a-Thon.

In 2018, immediately after the Montecito mudslides, along with five other Washington School moms — Cara Chirappa, Linda Meyer, Holly Parker, Anna Stump, and Laura Zoltan — and then joined by a Marymount mom, Jennifer Harris, Tara founded Santa Barbara Support Network. The organization’s mission was to support the immediate needs of families impacted by the mudslides, who had lost loved ones, homes, belongings, and so many other parts of their lives.

While there were many organizations helping during our community’s time of need, the Support Network founders knew their organization would be more effective in making a direct connection between local families’ needs and local families who could meet those needs. The organization raised more than $331,000 in addition to the many donated items and gift cards that directly went to and helped more than 49 local families. The organization also provided lunches for the Bucket Brigade (another mudslide relief effort volunteer group). To this day, the S.B. Support Network continues to support families and people in need and stands ready to move forward with the same or greater intensity than it did in 2018 should the need for it arise here again.

Through the S.B. Support Network and in other ways, Tara never stopped helping those in need no matter where they lived, what they were going through, or whether she knew them. Much like she did for others battling cancer, Tara helped raise funds for others, including getting gift cards to victims of the Paradise Fire and in other remote places. She was an active fundraiser for The Friendship Paddle, which helped her and her family in 2013.

Tara Haaland-Ford and the S.B. Support Network | Credit: Courtesy

Tara Haaland-Ford was born on September 1, 1972, at Indian Hills Hospital in Novato, California, to Marcia and Arnie Haaland. Arnie was stationed at Hamilton Air Force Base at that time. Her family moved to the Conejo Valley, where she graduated from Agoura High School. She attended Cuesta College before transferring to UCSB and went on to earn her Juris Doctorate at University of San Francisco. Tara is survived by her husband, Jon Ford, and her daughters, Madison and Lucy Haaland-Ford. Her daughters are both accomplished water polo players for San Marcos High School and the 805 Club. They are following their mother’s example in other ways. For example, Madi, along with a friend, created and ran her own summer camp, and Lucy joined the Board of Keiki Paddle Club, through which she is raising money for a local teen with cancer. Both are involved with National Charities League. Also surviving Tara are her father, Arnie Ford; stepmother Deb Day; mother, Marcia Haaland; brother, Cody Kramer; godson, Jacoby Thompson; stepmother Laurie Windsor; and step siblings Gregory and Carolyn Kramer, Laurie Gottlash, Ken Almony, and Tiffany, Brandee, and Jason Scott. Tara was predeceased by her close stepbrother Jeffrey Almony and her grandparents Ruth and Arne Ford and Dorothy and Vern Croddy.

As one of her close friends recently observed, “Tara had this calm peacefulness, a sense of purpose, a sense of community, a sense of joy, a light, and in that moment a celebration. RIP my friend.”

In lieu of flowers, and to support Tara’s daughters, donations may be made to “Gals Give Back” on PayPal. To support Tara’s legal legacy, donations may be made to the Santa Barbara Teen Legal Clinic for the Tara Haaland-Ford Restorative Justice Project at sbteenlegal.org.


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