Otto Wood Laula

Date of Birth

November 23, 1942

Date of Death

October 12, 2022

City of Death

Santa Barbara

Otto grew up in Birmingham, Michigan where he played baseball, was an honor student and president of his senior class. Graduating from Duke University as an English major, he went on to receive a law degree from the University of Michigan. Soon afterward, Otto married his high school sweetheart Sue McNeal and the couple moved to Window Rock, Arizona, to work with the Navajo Nation as VISTA volunteers. It was here that Baby Jessani was born. Soon afterwards, the family moved West again, landing in Santa Barbara.

Santa Barbara was the perfect backdrop for Otto’s interest in pursuing spiritual understanding and listening to inner truth. This became particularly important following the tragedy of Sue’s early death in 1976. With a sense of spirit guiding the way, Otto embraced being Jessani’s father as the central focus of his life. Their beautiful father-daughter relationship was an inspiration to all who knew them. From Jessani’s point of view, her Dad’s parenting style was both unconventional and fun. “He was always available & interested in everything I did, loved me unconditionally and life with him was one big adventure!” Through it all, her Dad showed up 100% – for her and everyone in their lives.

People were drawn to Otto’s charismatic personality. And, he was a loyal and interested friend to many….keeping in touch with old high school buddies, past relationships, new acquaintances and various characters encountered along the way. For Otto, amassing wealth and glory weren’t as important as showing up with compassion and authenticity. Whether as manager for the SB Recycling Center, a taxi driver or long-haul trucker, real estate agent or daytime bartender at Café del Sol for twenty-five years, Otto brought along his quirky sense of humor and deep love of for humanity.

Following a diagnosis of advanced neuro-endocrine cancer, Otto embarked on his end-of -life journey surrounded by the warm embrace of his loving family, including: his beloved partner Patsy Evans; his precious daughter Jessani Johnson with her husband, Scott, and children Hannah (Adrian and great grandson Sammy), Will (Haley), Jack (Tori) and Katey (Collin); his brother Dick, sister-in-law June, and nephew Luke; and his sister Molly Laula. And, from afar, his sister-in-laws Pricilla (Sandy) and Sheryl (Paul). Over the past few weeks, a wide circle of friends joined in to hold the space for Otto’s passage. There were tender stories, odd synchronicities, and moments of spontaneous levity. Just as he would have wanted.

We will miss Otto’s welcoming smile, birthday greetings, and standard Navajo welcome: “Ya’at’eeh” –pronounced yah-ta-hey, meaning everything on Earth is good. Any encounter with this dear man, including his passing, ended with a sense that, indeed, everything is good.

If inclined, donations may be made in Otto’s memory to:
VNA Health Foundation (Serenity House), Laguna Cottages for Seniors, Organic Soup Kitchen, and Self-Realization Fellowship.


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