Joan Margaret Petersen

Date of Birth

July 12, 1924

Date of Death

December 9, 2015

Santa Barbara resident Joan Margaret Petersen, 91, died Dec. 9, 2015, at Serenity House hospice from complications of a stomach disorder.

Joan had a gift for making friends out of strangers and taking people in need under her wing. She was admired for her optimism, humor, Christian faith and outgoing nature. She particularly loved her home, grandchildren (who called her Nana) and having a chat over tea.

Joan was an only child born July 12, 1924, in Sale, Cheshire, England, to David (b. Kilmarnoch, Scotland) and Jessie Sharp (b. Liverpool). She was raised and educated in England. In her youth she was athletic and a standout high jumper with Olympic aspirations. During World War II, Joan was employed as a secretary at Brasenose College, University of Oxford. She also did volunteer war-effort work. Her primary mode of transportation was bicycle (“riding 16 miles each way in the rain”).

She met the love of her life, Robert T. Petersen (Bob) of Santa Barbara, a lieutenant in the U.S. Army Air Corps, on a blind date in London. Joan’s war bride story is an exceptionally romantic one and a highlight of her memoirs, entitled “I’ve Been Thinking.”

Joan married Bob in Santa Barbara on March 23, 1947, a month after arriving in New York City on the Queen Elizabeth. (“The worst Atlantic crossing in 50 years, with towering waves crashing over the ship.”) Bob met her in New York and they flew together to California on a prop plane.

Joan and Bob settled in Santa Barbara and raised three daughters – a librarian, an elementary schoolteacher and a journalist. Joan became a U.S. citizen but kept her accent. In conversation, she made liberal use of British idioms. Ask her age? “As old as my tongue and a little older than my teeth.” Her maiden name? “Sharp by name but not by nature.” On turning 90, “soldiering on.”

While she occasionally was homesick, she felt blessed to live in “paradise.” Her parents took the opportunity to immigrate and were frequent visitors.

Joan was high-spirited and independently minded. Primarily a homemaker, she also worked outside the home. Her professional accomplishments included administrative assistant to a UCSB professor, an investor and a well-known entertainer. She managed the Lobero Theater box office and started her own business, the Ticket Bureau of Santa Barbara, specializing in theatrical and sports events. Joan was widowed in 1999.

She was a devoted member of Trinity Lutheran Church, where she participated in a Bible study group, the choir and a home ministry program. She was a playground aide, school choir director and P.T.A. president, a president and lifetime member of the Danish Sisterhood, Lodge No. 165 (honorary Dane by marriage), and a longstanding member of the Santa Barbara Woman’s Club, where she served on the board. She was also a member of Daughters of the British Empire and Soroptomist International, and a volunteer at the Braille Institute.

She enjoyed singing, the theater and acting, travel, lawn bowling, painting and needlepoint, reading and watching the PBS channel. A highly intuitive person, she was skilled at reading tea-leaf fortunes. Despite her English roots, Joan wasn’t much of a gardener.

In recent months, Joan often expressed how much she appreciated her caregiver, Roberta Fell, who she embraced as a sister in spirit.

Joan is survived by her daughters Gail Smith (Allan Smith) of Hopewell, NJ; Lynn Englund (Rob Englund) of Paradise, Calif., and Karen O’Hara of Santa Barbara; six grandchildren, Colin and Imogen Smith, Daniel and Paul Elsen; Mary Clarke and James O’Hara; and two great grandsons who live in Japan.

A Celebration of Life will be held at 2 p.m. Jan. 23 at Trinity Lutheran Church, 909 N. La Cumbre Road. Following a memorial service, we will share stories about Joan’s remarkable life. In lieu of flowers, she asked that donations be made in her memory to her church or a favorite charity.


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