Tybie Kirtman: 1937-2022

Tybie Kirtman, an important behind-the-scenes figure in Santa Barbara newspapers, died February 2 at age 85. Raised in Brooklyn, Hunter College student Tybie Planzer met fellow Brooklyner Bernie Kirtman on a blind date arranged by his Columbia University classmate. That date was the start of their 64-year love story, 56 of those years in Santa Barbara, where Bernie (still a full-time UCSB faculty member) rose to international renown as a theoretical chemist.

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Several generations of budding South Coast journalists, growing under Kirtman’s wings at the Santa Barbara News & Review and UCSB’s Daily Nexus, remember her with warmth and admiration. “Mentoring” and “protection” were recurrent themes in online accolades posted by many then-novice newsfolk.

The News & Review — launched with small gifts and loans from Montecito progressives in 1972 and struggling to stay afloat in its second year — was relieved when Tybie dropped her backhand development on the tennis courts to lend the weekly a hand as its first business manager. Despite raised eyebrows from socialistic or anarchic spirits among the staff collective, she introduced needed concessions to “The System,” such as regularly billing advertisers, even hiring an accountant! Soon afterward, staff could be assured that Friday “paychecks” of $25 would not bounce Monday — and might even rise to $35 weekly in 1974. In those hard times, Tybie drew no wage herself, saving the collective over a thousand a year.

Equally important was her role as mother hen, quelling clashes among strong male egos and helping staff of both genders navigate life in a city where few had family or long history. “She was an ADULT! With my own real mom 3,000 miles away,” recalled Pip Klein, a New Yorker in the design department. “Tybie actually saved my life! At my desk feeling unwell, and she somehow figured out that the odd red stripes on my leg indicated a blood poisoning infection — and got me to the ER. I always appreciated her for taking a personal interest in her huge work family.”

Tybie was instrumental in enabling the N&R’s move from its two-room quarters near Haley and Milpas to upper De la Vina, where ad designers and even proofreaders had their own spaces. When an electrical fire shut that site suddenly, she found a new office in downtown’s Balboa Building, so quickly that not an issue was missed. And since then-editor Joan Walsh (later at Salon. CNN, now The Nation) lost all her winter clothes stored onsite in the rafters, Tybie refurbished Joan’s wardrobe.

As financial challenges mounted for the News & Review in the early 1980s, Tybie was instrumental in negotiating the transition into the Santa Barbara Independent, ensuring that a progressive print voice would survive — under a new name and leadership — to serve the South Coast for decades to come. She served as the Independent’s first publisher before moving to UCSB’s Daily Nexus.

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“You couldn’t have asked for a better consigliere regarding the campus or community,” said Nexus 1987-88 executive editor Steve Elzer. “She was fiercely protective of what we were doing. Juggling it all, Tybie was equal parts den mother, ad chief, and mama bear looking after a bunch of talented, inquisitive college kids. In the outpouring of condolences, there is a consistency: her leadership in a challenging business, her generosity as a friend, and her no-nonsense wisdom. Tybie left an amazing legacy of lives she influenced.”

Testimony on the last point was provided by former AP foreign correspondent and NPR editor Michelle Morgante: “If success is measured by lives you impact, then Tybie Kirtman was a fairy godmother who worked magic many ways. How many lives were changed? Mine was. During my stint as news editor, she took Amy Langfield [now at CNN] and me to a college journalism convention. That trip absolutely altered the trajectory of my life, landing me — a MexicanTK, first-gen college student from a tiny farm town — my first internships: at Time Magazine and then with AP, which led to my 25-year stint at the wire and continuing career. And parties at her house were legendary. Gracias, Tybie. Viverás en nosotros para siempre.”

Doug Arellanes, a Nexus alum, seconded Morgante’s last assertion — “You live on through me, in that I too am advising students at my U’s radio station.” As well as mentoring dozens, she was also an inspirer and a fount of wisdom, he added. “One favorite came after I’d screwed something up. She said: ‘Life is like tennis. You can’t think about the ball you just missed. You have to think about the ball that’s coming at you.’ We lost a good one.”

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Active in the local Jewish community, Tybie spearheaded the first Jewish Film Festival and served as president of UCSB Hillel Foundation in the late 1980s, recalled Rabbi Steven Cohen, who said that she helped introduce him to Santa Barbara when he came to town. She was also a strong environmentalist, often serving as wing-woman to longtime friend Selma Rubin, organizer of many no-growth and enviro campaigns.

In addition to her husband, Bernie Kirtman, Tybie is survived by her daughter Ann (Richard) Pulido of Atlanta; son Ben (Deanna), an atmospheric scientist at University of Miami; and two granddaughters, Stephanie Spiegel and Marissa Pulido, as well as by a Santa Barbara better informed by her journalistic legacy and greener due to environmental causes she avidly supported.


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