Theresa Bartos died on November 14, 2019 in Santa Barbara — her home of more than three decades — after a long and courageous fight with bladder cancer, having survived breast cancer 26 years earlier. She was 66.
Theresa was born on September 2, 1953 to Wilburta and Thron Riggs in Los Angeles, where she grew up with her brothers Thron, John and Bill in Manhattan Beach. Following her own mother’s death from breast cancer in 1961, a stepmother and two stepsisters — Dana and Lauren — would enter the family. As Theresa entered high school, the Riggs family story took another major turn as the family uprooted from Southern California to the Deep South: Pascagoula, Mississippi.
Theresa attended the University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg before relocating back to Southern California to attend Pomona College where she graduated magna cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in botany in 1975.
That same year, Theresa would meet Chris, a fellow Manhattan Beach-native who was in the midst of building a 38-foot sailboat, called Solstice. In 1978, the pair embarked on a sailing trip that would define the course of their lives: for three years, Chris and Theresa cruised on Solstice in the waters between Mexico, Central America and through the Panama Canal; they would marry in Alajuela, Costa Rica on May 15, 1980.
The pair eventually returned stateside and settled in Santa Barbara where they would raise their family. They had two daughters: Leah (1985) and Monica (1988.)
In addition to the centrality of family and friends in her life, many people in Santa Barbara will remember Theresa for her commitment to public service in the community. She worked for both the city and county of Santa Barbara in various roles and would find her most ardent passion in the unique educational community of Open Alternative School (OAS), where she first joined as parent-volunteer; she was eventually hired as an employee of the Santa Barbara Unified School District. Theresa served OAS from 1990 until 2018, when she became ill with cancer. (By coincidence, that would be the last year of the school’s operation.) She touched the lives of countless parents and students over the decades, and she met many of the people who would become her closest friends.
Theresa is survived by her husband Chris Bartos, daughters Leah Bartos and Monica Bartos, son-in-law Sam Furtner, and Baby Bartos-Furtner on the way. In addition to her three brothers — Thron Riggs, John Riggs, and Bill Riggs — she also leaves behind three sisters-in-law, Jonel Bartos, Holiday Whisennand, Camilla Pratt, as well as dozens of nieces and nephews on both sides of the family.
A memorial service will be held for Theresa on December 8 — the 58th anniversary of her mother Wilburta’s death. Family and friends will be celebrating Theresa’s life with a posole party, an annual Bartos family holiday tradition which they started the year she first beat cancer.