“Jolly Roger” Bradfield
“Jolly Roger” Bradfield rang out the old year by sailing off into the sunset, leaving a cast of colorful characters in his wake. From lavender lions to giants of different sizes. Goofy princes and sharp-witted princesses. With just one stroke of his paintbrush Roger had the power to transport us, inviting us into his vivid world of imagination where anything was possible.
Born in White Bear Minnesota in 1924, Rog joked that his father took one look at him and disappeared. Smiling with his signature twinkle, he recounted that he was left with a small fortune: his father’s prized pool cue and old holey bathrobe. Raised by his mom and grandma in a “skinny” railroad home, he and his grandma spent countless afternoons playing ball in the street. Saturday afternoons were reserved for cowboy movies, where – for just a nickel – he and his ragtag friends would “yell as loud as we could when the hero was chasing the bad guy.”
When WW2 arrived, Rog was drafted into the army. A lifelong trumpet player, he was known for waking his Camp Robert’s comrades with Reveille and ending their day with Taps. Following the war, he attended Minneapolis School of Art, where God graciously intervened, putting the saintly “Joanie” in his path. As the story goes, Roger took one look at the blue-eyed beauty on the art school steps, turned to his buddy, and declared, “See that blonde over there? I’m gonna marry her!”
His prophecy would materialize just months later. The two were wed on the fourth of July in 1948. How fitting that they would ring in a sixty-seven-year marriage with fireworks. A once-in a lifetime kind of love, the twosome had a magic all their own. Crossing the Atlantic on the Queen Mary, they set out for France, where Roger attended the Academie Julian. Once he discovered that no attendance record was kept, he spent the entire year wandering the streets of Paris, “drawing, drawing, drawing,” and sipping café au laits at corner cafes. He shared, “Looking back, this probably had more influence on my eventual style (or lack of style!) than anything else.” Living abroad, Roger and “his angel” Joanie picnicked on the banks of the Seine in Paris, rode bicycles through tulip fields in Holland, and eventually welcomed their first child, Steve (aka ‘Reno’) while Rog was attending the Heatherley School of Art in London. Kari arrived shortly after their return to Minnesota, followed by Cindy (aka ‘Venetia’), Sue, and Heidi.
Roger and Uncle Pete hand-built the young family a home in Golden Valley, where the happy clan built snow forts, and skated on Strawberry Pond. In 1967 they traded Minnesota’s blustery winters for Santa Barbara’s ceaselessly sunny skies. Landing on Arbolado Road, where Rog once famously trimmed the poolside topiary into a giant, thirsty camel, he spent his days in his art studio, dreaming up a world of colorful characters and reemerging at dinnertime covered in paint.
Renowned for an illustrious career that would span an early stint with BBDO and General Mills – sketching a medley of characters including the famous Keebler elves, Trix rabbit, and Mr. Bubble – Roger parlayed his talents into the nationally syndicated comic strip, Dooley’s World, a host of beloved children’s books under the pen name, “Jolly Roger Bradfield,” and later, an ever-expanding watercolor collection dreamt up from his travels through Greece, Portugal, Mexico and Norway with his “sweet Joanie.”
In his fifties, Roger became a Christian. In his book, Everybody’s Somebody, he wrote: ‘Sometime after I made my own decision to let Christ come into my life and take over, I adopted this personal motto—it’s lettered on a card and tacked to the top of my drawing board: “I’d rather have the Creator of the Universe running my life than some second-rate cartoonist.”‘
Retiring to Arroyo Grande in 1988, Roger and his son, Reno, designed and custom-built a Tudorstyle charmer, complete with a turret and old brass fire pole. When he wasn’t happily sketching in his studio, Rog would get lost in his workshop, spinning out handmade furniture with the same effortless panache as his legendary paintings.
A colorful character with limitless talent, Roger’s humor was perhaps his greatest gift. His grandfatherly advice? “Be good. But not too good. You gotta have a little fun once in a while.” As we close the chapter on an extraordinary life that spanned ninety-seven remarkable years, let us always remember the immeasurable gifts that Roger imparted.
May we all navigate life with the same unrestrained enthusiasm, unfiltered comedic timing, and abundant appreciation for the beauty around us. Roger had a special talent for bringing love, laughter, and a few clinking martinis wherever he went. Cheers to you, Rog. You’ve left an indelible legacy and will be forever missed.
Jolly Roger Bradfield is enjoying heaven with his beloved Joanie and his cherished daughter Sue Ostby. He is survived by children Reno Bradfield, Kari Hansen (Bob), Venetia Bradfield, and Heidi Palladino (Steve), son-in-law Dana Ostby, 13 grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren.
Special thanks to all the staff and caregivers at Heritage House and Samarkand, who took such great care of Roger, and showered him with love. You are deeply appreciated.
Please join us in celebrating the magical life of “Jolly Roger” Bradfield. We will be gathering outside at 2pm on Saturday, February 26th, 2022, at Santa Barbara Community Church (1002 Cieneguitas Rd). A colorful character who led a brilliant life, we will be remembering Rog with the same kaleidoscope of colors that he splashed across his canvases. Feel free to come dressed in bright, bold hues. Rog would’ve loved that.