Santa Barbara’s Bob Handy, Longtime Veterans Advocate and Democratic Party Activist, Dies at 90

Former Head of Veterans United for Truth Took on Federal Government over Failure to Address PTSD in Vets

In February 2021, Congressmember Salud Carbajal presented a Congressional Record to Robert "Bob" Handy, whom Carbajal called “a fierce advocate for veterans.” | Credit: Courtesy

Bob Handy, longtime champion for military veterans and a former chair of the Democratic Central Committee, died this week at age 90. Handy — well known for his outspoken views, curmudgeonly delivery, and unbudgeable support for veterans’ rights and benefits — had been in shaky health in recent years, having suffered, among other things, a fall off a ladder while raking avocados off the roof of an apartment building he owned in downtown Santa Barbara. As one longtime friend put it, Handy lived to tell the tale, but along the way managed to exhaust the allotment of nine lives usually reserved for cats. 

Handy grew up in Manhattan, moved to North Carolina at age 15 to be raised by relatives of his father after his father died, and quickly joined the U.S. Navy afterward, at age 17. He served until he turned 30.

Bob Handy in Vietnam | Credit: Courtesy

While in the Navy, Handy served 13 months on the Korean peninsula and in Vietnam. At that time, he had three small children. In Vietnam, Handy served as a hospital corpsman. During his years in uniform, Handy also served in the Caribbean for about six months, as well as Newfoundland, Newport, and eventually Pt. Hueneme. It was while at Pt. Hueneme that Handy had his eyes — and heart — opened to the charms of the South Coast.

He and his family bought a home in Montecito when homes could still be had there for as little as $30,000. When postal authorities listed his address as Santa Barbara — and not Montecito — he reportedly threatened to sue. Handy would later get into real estate, doing well enough to buy three apartment properties. 

In dress and demeanor, Handy wore his service to his country loudly and proudly, and he was active in many of the organizations representing those who served. In 2007, for example, he was one of three veterans who sued the federal government for allegedly failing to address the PTSD needs of veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan in a timely fashion.  

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At the state’s Democratic Convention in San Jose, Veterans United for Truth members (from left) Sandy Cook, Bob Handy, Russ Weed, and Roger Hart stand before a display that features faces of California soldiers killed in the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts. | Credit: Don Katz

“We’re not afraid of the bastards,” Handy said at the time. He was 75 then and head of Veterans United for Truth. “For a group of old farts like us to take on something like this is pretty unique. A lot of guys our age would be out vegetating.” 

Later when developers unveiled plans to make modifications to the Veterans’ Memorial Building along Cabrillo Boulevard, Handy proved an intractable opponent. The changes, he charged, might interfere with the untrammeled access veterans enjoyed to the facility. The two sides did not agree to disagree agreeably; tempers almost always flared, and names were most definitely called. 

As a political activist, Handy — a big supporter of Congressmembers Salud Carbajal, Walter Capps, and Lois Capps — emerged as the face of the local Democratic Party at a time when there was little Democratic Party machine to speak of. Later, as the party evolved into a force to be reckoned with, Handy found himself frequently at odds with party leadership. He always saw it otherwise; they were out of step with him. 

When the party voted to oppose the gang injunction then under consideration by the Santa Barbara City Council in 2012, Handy insisted the police chief be given the courtesy of an interview first. Handy served on the Fire and Police Commission at the time. For his efforts, Handy got nowhere. “We’re a political party not a debating party,” the head of the party famously told Handy.

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