Daniel Francis Higgins

Date of Birth

February 24, 1946

Date of Death

June 22, 2020

City of Death


Daniel Francis Higgins died of cancer and of cancer treatment in the early morning of June 22, 2020, in Santa Barbara, California. Dan was born in Decatur, Illinois, on February 24, 1946, the eldest of the five children of John Higgins and Jane Shaw Higgins. He excelled as both a student and an athlete during his primary and secondary schooling, and was proud of his academic achievements and his position on his high school football team. Dan continued his education at the University of Illinois (Champaign) and, in 1968, he received a B.S. degree in Engineering Physics. He then moved to California to study at the California Institute of Technology (Cal Tech) from which he received an M.S. in Physics degree in 1970. After graduation, he entered the United States Air Force with the rank of First Lieutenant and served his country as a research scientist at the Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Upon honorable discharge in 1972, he accepted a position in Santa Barbara at Mission Research Corporation where he was engaged in research on electromagnetic effects. Some years later, he worked at JAYCOR, another research company. The final phase of Dan’s career involved a very different kind of scientific work. He accepted a position at UCSB at the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis. He worked at NCEAS for seven years before retiring and took delight in meeting researchers from around the world and learning about the ecological issues they were investigating.

In 1974, Dan met Jo-Ann Shelton on a Sierra Club hike at Figueroa Mountain. They were married on June 21, 1975, and enjoyed 45 very happy years together. Dan and Jo-Ann shared a love of animals and found joy in caring for a large menagerie, including dogs and cats (all “rescues”), horses, a pig and a chicken. Dan was fond of telling stories about their animal companions, especially about the amazing intelligence of his Arabian horse, Sur Neetar, and the exploits of Stella the pig.

Dan and Jo-Ann also shared a love of travel and adventure. They travelled extensively throughout Europe, and to Greenland, Australia, Morocco, Indonesia, Costa Rica, New Zealand, Egypt and many other places. All their experiences were positive. Everywhere they went, they met kind and helpful people. Their favorite location (besides Santa Barbara, of course) was Rome, and they made frequent visits to the Eternal City. During their most recent sojourn, they rented an apartment near Campo di Fiori and right across the street from a favorite restaurant, Da Pancrazio. Dan recommends their Bucatini all’Amatriciana.

Dan loved trail rides with his beloved Sur Neetar, discussing current events, snorkeling at the Great Barrier Reef, walking the dogs at Wilcox, and attending the productions of Ensemble Theater and SBCC Theater Group. He disliked narrow-mindedness and dishonesty.

Dan cherished the friendships of the YMCA Tai Chi group, and Jo-Ann is very grateful for their support during the difficult period of his illness, made even more difficult by the Covid restrictions which prevented hospital visits and social contact. The restrictions are sensible and necessary, but they do make patients and their families feel very isolated. Nonetheless the staff at Cottage Hospital – nurses, doctors, aides, technicians, counsellors – do an outstanding job of caring for patients and their families during these challenging times. Also deserving of heartfelt thanks are Yellow Cab driver, Hernan, and our wonderful neighbors, Barry and Sue, Kathy, David and Vicki.

Dan was slow to anger and quick to forgive. He was a kind, strong, honest, funny, tolerant, and wise man. And he was the very best of husbands.

Dan is survived by his brothers Timothy, Patrick (and wife Donna), and Kelly, his sister Rena Leake (and husband Dave), his sister-in-law and brother-in-law, Maxine and Kimber Hasselriis, and several nieces and nephews. He was predeceased just a few weeks ago by Kelly’s wife, Donna Libby.

Always proud of his Irish heritage, Dan wanted his death to be commemorated with a wake. Since Covid restrictions preclude large social gatherings, the wake will be postponed. In the near future, a Zoom memorial may be arranged.
If you wish to make a charitable donation in Dan’s memory, please consider VNA Health, 512 E. Gutierrez Street, Santa Barbara, 93103, or PAWS (Performing Animal Welfare Society), P.O. Box 849, Galt, Ca 95632.


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