In Memoriam |
Benjamin Fay Brode
1937 – 2023

Ben Brode had logged a lifetime of exciting adventures out in the world by the time I met him. But when destiny opened the door, he was ready for one more — a 44-year journey of the heart. As he told his kids recently, “When I got together with your mother, it felt like setting sail from the Galapagos to the Marquesas — into the unknown on an adventure I wouldn’t want to miss.” And he didn’t miss a thing. His kids, Ben E., Emma, and Carrie, remember how he showed up for camping trips, drove the water polo team, went to horse shows, organized art shows, set up lemonade stands, made cookies after school, and drove them every summer out to their land in northern New Mexico. Key to his fabulous relationship with his kids: Ben offered advice only when asked.

I was really into theater, and Brode knew that, of course, so he built all the sets for my summer stock performance of Lord of the Rings. And he made me a really cool axe out of wood, so when I said, ‘And my axe!’ it was, actually, my axe!

Ben Eichenberg, stepson

I’ve never known anyone who was more capable of building or fixing anything. If you asked him to build you a simple arbor, he’d build you the most spectacular masterpiece because that’s just who he was. Everything he touched turned into a work of art.

Emma James, daughter

I think from even a small age I knew that I had won the lottery when it came to fathers. Mine was gentle and wise and kind and loved me wildly. I couldn’t have dreamed up a better candidate. We adventured together, laughed, cooked, sailed, camped, drove around the French countryside in a little Renault rent-a-car — and all the while he let me know that I was absolutely perfect without saying a word. I am so grateful for all the gifts he gave me. And so proud of his lasting legacy: kindness in memory and beauty in his art.

Caroline Paine, daughter

Ben was husband, father, godfather, father-in-law, uncle, and grandfather to a thriving family of interesting, creative, and engaging characters. As he settled into his role of kindly grandpa, the “BabaVan,” an old VW, became a fort and favorite mode of transportation. People still remember seeing him with his first grandson down at the marina checking out trucks and looking at boats. A surprise to himself, Ben was a natural patriarch, in the best sense of the word.

He showed me how to build so many things in life, from backyard decks to loving families, but I grieve for how much more he had to give.

Thomas Paine, son-in-law

Brode was a gentle and quiet soul who often let others do the talking, but every so often, he’d land a hilarious line. Once we were piled in the car, stuck in traffic on the 101 after a day at the beach, all feeling quite cranky. He pulled off at the next exit and found us a faster route and all of our spirits lifted. ‘They don’t call me Backroad Brodie for nothin’,’ he said.

Susie Meserve, daughter-in-law

We had a tradition on the last day of school every year to go sit at the counter in Brophy Bros. and have lunch.

Brody Paine, grandson

I remember movie time snuggles with Baba while he slept through it.

Sebastian Paine, grandson
Credit: Courtesy

Over the years, we hosted many memorable dinner parties for family and friends in the garden settings of our various homes around town. Normally a man of few words, with a little libation — “G&T with a slice of lime, dash of bitters, please” — Ben would share a story from his interesting life. We were charmed by accounts of a kid running barefoot, attending a one-room schoolhouse, and growing up behind his parents’ grocery store. We could feel the glory of a high school track star and sense the challenges of a young seaman in the engine room of a Fletcher-class destroyer. We were entertained by tales of commercial fishing out of the Santa Barbara harbor on the Six Brothers, prospecting for gold in the jungles of Nicaragua, and mystical encounters in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. And we were delighted with an endless repertoire of vignettes from an epic adventure sailing the South Pacific for two years on a 27-foot wooden boat. Even if you’d heard these stories before, you were eager to hear them again.

Ben Brode walked through life with a self-confidence that came from knowing essential things and mastering impressive skills. Even though he never sought the limelight, people were drawn to his talent, generosity, and good looks. He was known for pitching in when hard work needed to be done and finding solutions when things fell apart. And if you were lucky enough, he would invite you in and show you how to see the world through the lens of an artist.

Ben’s artistic work | Credit: Courtesy

Ben was an artist through and through. He created logos for the John Dory and Harbor restaurants. He trimmed trees with David Gosnell and ran cabinet shops for ATN and Utt Construction. He designed and built many beautiful pieces of furniture. In 1998, Ben set up his own studio and set out to master the art of landscape painting — making his own frames, of course. People remember the many themed art shows featuring the inherent beauty of Santa Barbara ranchlands; the majesty of the Sierras, Berkshires, and Rockies; the tropical beaches of the Caribbean and Hawai‘i; and the wild coast of California. In 2014, Ben and author Thom Steinbeck began a creative collaboration resulting in the acclaimed book In Search of the Dark Watchers: Landscapes and Lore of Big Sur. Ben was an active participant in the art community, serving on the board of directors of the Santa Barbara Studio Artists for several years.

Credit: Courtesy

Our dear Ben had been slowing down in the past few years but continued on with a steady grace that was simply his way. Once he was diagnosed with metastasized pancreatic cancer, however, he wrapped things up quickly and elegantly. At his request, we convened a final family gathering so Ben could welcome Baby Levi and bid farewell to his precious Clan Brode. One morning, a short time later, he sailed away on the soft notes of a lullaby. In his wake, he left behind an eternal love that radiates from each garden gate, piece of furniture, landscape painting, and sweet memory.

The family would like to thank all who brought food, sent flowers and loving words, shared stories, contributed to the GoFundMe campaign, and held us tenderly over the past couple of months. We are grateful to the hospice professionals at VNA for supporting Ben’s wish to spend his final days in his own home and the construction crew that worked double-time to make it happen. All these blessings have filled this difficult time with love and light.

A memorial will be held on Sunday, September 17, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Kiwanis Meadows, Area #5, in Tucker’s Grove Park. Please save the date and join us to share a few memories and celebrate this remarkable man.


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