Owen Guitteau, never without a story or a joke, died on October 25th of complications from a brain tumor, depriving us of his infectious vitality. Owen, a second generation Santa Barbareno, grew up in Montecito in a different era, an era where the students at Montecito Union School were the children of the domestics who worked on the huge estates that were Montecito at that time. In the first graduating class of Mt. Carmel School, he went to Catholic High in the days when the nuns didn’t allow any talking in the halls. With the “Purple Gang” he rode his bike everywhere, explored all the creeks and trails of Montecito, camped overnight, caught lobster off of Miramar Beach, which he sold for $1, and tucked away memories of adventures that he loved to share with anyone who would listen.
Growing up during the war next to the Miramar, a center of rest and recreation for soldiers, Owen looked up to the soldiers and developed a life long interest in WW II. There are few books on even the minutiae of WW II that Owen had not read, he visited the Beaches of Normandy four times, acting as a guide for friends, and never missed visiting a WW II site or museum.
Like most men his age, he served in the US Army. Unlike most men who were drafted, he loved it and his time in the army gave him even more stories to tell through the years. He said that after Catholic School and his mother, discipline in the army was easy. Most of his tour of duty was in Germany with the Occupation Forces, a gold mine of stories and the source of his love of travel.
When Owen returned home, he decided to become a plumber because he wanted to live his life in Santa Barbara. In 1959 he married Laurie Wallace at Mt. Carmel Church where he had served as an altar boy. They raised two children, Denise and Scott, spending vacations camping wherever they could water-ski. Owen loved the challenge of plumbing the large and complex houses in Montecito and eventually had his own business. With his prodigious memory, he could recite the details of every house he ever plumbed.
Once the kids left home, Owen and Laurie traveled the world and, thanks to their son, bought an apartment in Paris, becoming devoted Francophiles. They celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary with family and French friends in a house they rented in the Dordogne Region, a treasured memory. Even after Owen’s brain surgery, they continued another 4 years of fun and adventure traveling.
Owen’s faith was central to his life. He was active in St. Barbara’s Parish, overseeing the construction of the Nativity Scene each Christmas since the 70’s, serving on the Parish Council, as a Eucharistic Minister, and as an altar server. He lived his faith, always doing things for others. No woman ever lifted a heavy suitcase into an overhead bin when Owen was there, and one time in Italy with his daughter, he actually lifted a very heavy Italian woman off a train as it was starting to move because she was stuck. Lots of kisses and grazies! No one ever met Owen even briefly who didn’t love him with his open friendliness, upbeat personality. A bright light has gone, but Owen leaves all of us with a model of grace, humor, intelligence, and a kind of devotion that is rare these days.
Owen is survived by Laurie, his loving wife of 61 years, his children Scott Guitteau and Denise Keane, and his grandchildren Patrick and Katie Keane. Sadly, his sister Judy Pearce recently preceded him in death. No doubt they are together talking about old Montecito.
A celebration of Owen’s life will be held once the pandemic has passed. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to St. Barbara’s Parish or to the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden.