George Thurlow: Our Loss, UCSB’s Gain

It is with deep sadness and great pride that The Santa Barbara Independent must say goodbye to George Thurlow, the paper’s publisher for the last 12 years. He will leave later this month to become the new assistant vice chancellor for Alumni Affairs, and executive director of the University of California, Santa Barbara Alumni Association.

George became the publisher of The Independent during a critical turn in its history, helping to lead the paper from its beginnings as a small alternative weekly to its present position as a successful newspaper approaching its 20th year serving Santa Barbara County. George Thurlow’s professional ethics worked well with the founding philosophy of The Independent, especially in two ways. First, he operated from the point of view that the real business of The Independent was to publish a strong, progressive newsweekly for Santa Barbara County. Secondly, George embraced the idea that it was the paper’s responsibility to give back to Santa Barbara. While newspapers must maintain an independence from the people, events, and businesses about which they report, they must also be an integral part of the community they serve. George did everything in his power to see that that happened. He personally served in volunteer leadership roles for some of the most important nonprofits and civic organizations in this county.

Under his direction, The Independent matured as a publishing business. He helped expand the paper’s advertising base, shepherded production facilities into the computerized era, and controlled costs, all the while supporting excellence in a fluid, competitive marketplace. His many innovative ideas include his favorite, the Mother’s Day supplement. Each year George goes to a different elementary school, working with the teachers to help the students prepare a miniature paper complete with original writing and hand-drawn advertising copy. Next week will be our 12th annual issue.

But nothing defines George Thurlow’s tenure as publisher more than his energized commitment to service. He not only was a hardworking member of a wide variety of boards, but he also strove to bring disparate members of the community together, if not in agreement, at least in conversation. He served with equal dedication on the boards of the politically progressive Fund for Santa Barbara and of the powerful business lobby, the Downtown Organization, opening a fruitful dialogue between the two groups. He served for many years on the board and committees of Old Spanish Days, where he worked late into the night setting up and breaking down Fiesta booths. And he also helped make Fiesta a far more inclusive community celebration. He currently is vice chair of the Board of Directors of Pacific Broadcasting Co. — which operates the classical music station, KDB — and sits on the boards of The Santa Barbara Foundation and Partners in Education.

The basis of George’s success as a publisher, however, rested on his unique understanding and love of newspapers. Before coming to The Independent, he had a long career as a journalist. As a reporter and editor for a number of publications, including editor and equity partner of the Chico News & Review, George experienced first hand the drudgery and elation that is the news-gathering process. When Independent reporters broke strong stories, George not only congratulated them, but he also had insightful comments. Too often for these reporters’ comfort, they found George knew more about their subject than they did. But most importantly, when stories threatened to jeopardize longstanding relations with advertisers — as they inevitably do — George never intervened. He scrupulously maintained the boundaries between editorial and business. If the fallout was painful, and on a number of occasions this must have been the case, George made sure no one in the news department ever saw him wince.

George was frequently the first one to show up for work in the morning. By the time most Independent staffers start arriving, he would often be returning from his first — or second — meeting of the day, always exuding his unique blend of fatalistic good cheer and jaundiced optimism. We will miss it. But all here at The Independent can only wish George joy at his new and important post, for as much as George loves journalism, he loves his alma mater, UCSB. Not surprisingly he has spent many hours volunteering on campus, including serving as a past president of the UCSB Alumni Association, as a former member of its board of directors, and on the UCSB Foundation. Certainly in his new position, George and his wife Denise will be able to indulge their passion for the Lady Gauchos’ basketball games even more than they do now. We congratulate the university and Chancellor Henry T. Yang for their good luck. And to George, we shall soon send him off with our best wishes and most heartfelt thanks. — Marianne Partridge, Editor-in-Chief

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