In Memoriam | C. Seybert Kinsell: 1924-2023

Dr. C. Seybert Kinsell was an extraordinary human being who loved other people and who tended to their needs throughout his long and productive life. He grew up in Santa Barbara and attended Roosevelt Elementary School, La Cumbre Junior High, and Santa Barbara High School. After high school, he went to college and then Stanford Medical School. He liked to recall how fortunate he was to study at Stanford under George Beadle, who would later receive the Nobel Prize in Medicine. Sey was brilliant and had a discursive, rather than linear, intelligence. His thought was elliptic and thorough rather than heading directly to the point. He wanted to understand the world and to reflect that understanding to others.

He was a treasured pediatrician and longtime family friend of many in the community. In my own family’s case, he was “Dr. Kinsell” to each of my three older brothers and myself. He made house calls when a child was particularly ill. My parents considered him a trusted family confidant and he remained so for me. When I married in 2018, he made a cake for my wife and myself. He also dropped newspaper articles by that he thought I would be interested in, particularly from the London Financial Times, of which he was an avid reader.

Sey was highly involved in the community. Among other positions, he served on the City Police and Fire Commission, the County Parole Board, and the Chamber of Commerce Government Review Committee. He was a longtime member of the Santa Barbara Rotary Club, of which he had been president. He was involved with the Santa Barbara Historical Museum and the Santa Barbara High School Alumni Association. He was very interested in local history and had a large Santa Barbara postcard collection. Many knew him best for his work through the Santa Barbara Council for the Retarded, now the ARC-Santa Barbara, which runs the Alpha Resource Center. He also served as president of this organization. He was very involved in establishing hospice care in Santa Barbara, both as organizational facilitator and hands-on volunteer.

The story is told of Sey that once, at a time when to have a disabled child was considered a stigma, two colleagues of his delivered an infant who unexpectedly had Down syndrome. They called Sey because they didn’t know what to tell the mother when she woke up. Sey traveled immediately to the hospital and cradled the baby in his arms. When the mother awoke, he transferred him to her, saying, “God has given you the most beautiful child in the world.” She replied: “Yes, He has.”

Sey was a great friend. Many families with a developmentally disabled family member owe a great debt of gratitude to him, including the Kallman and Ciabattoni families. According to Carol Kallman, Sey was a “very important part of our family — and yes, he was my baby doctor.” Sally (Ciabattoni) Saenger remembers him as “a name I grew up with” and trusted family friend. When my oldest brother, Phil (who was developmentally disabled), visited Santa Barbara in recent years, Sey was always available to have breakfast or lunch with him, which delighted Phil. Sey was a connection to our parents, and through him, Phil had a chance to stay anchored to his past and recall happy times. Sey and I would also occasionally get together, and it was always great to see him. He was among the most positive and encouraging people I have ever known. He would do whatever he could to help.

He liked to write his thoughts on life and the world, and it is appropriate to share some of these both for their intrinsic value and the light they shed on him:

Religion — belief that there is an unseen order

Some people grow old / others just add years
Build up your Spiritual Stamina
People, not candles, set the mood

People should like you, not for your looks but what’s in your heart
What cannot be said will be wept

Sey truly was a wise and wonderful human being. He always had a good word to say, was enthusiastic, and smiled. He once wrote me: “Human wellness demands relationships — we with others and others with us — we have moments to think of the significance (of) what we do for others and what they do for us.” I saw him for the last time in the spring of this past year. We had a great lunch at the Boat House at Hendry’s Beach. He walked with a cane, but his spirit was undiminished. He loved life, and he loved helping others.

Good people just are … to everyone. Physician, community leader, and friend — this was Sey Kinsell. A memorial service in his honor will be held on April 25 at 2 p.m. at All Saints-by-the-Sea Episcopal Church.


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