Rick Thomas Barron

Date of Birth

January 15, 1945

Date of Death

June 16, 2023

City of Death

Santa Barbara


Rick Thomas Barron died from complications from non-alcoholic liver disease on June 16, 2023 at the age of 78 in Santa Barbara, in the home in which he was raised and in which he raised his son. Rick was born on January 15, 1945 in Bellingham, Washington to Dr. Fred Thomas Barron, a dentist, and Genevieve Barron.

They moved to Santa Barbara when Rick was a year old, and as a boy, he hunted and fished with his father, Fred, often on horseback, throughout California’s backcountry, along with a hunting dog sporting a gold-capped canine tooth. Rick was among the earliest pioneering surfers at Rincon, braving cold winter swells in a primitive diver’s “beavertail” wetsuit and building fires on the beach to warm up. Rick, his father, and his sister Adair were each passionate Mammoth skiers long before the first chairlifts or T-bars were put in, when the only way to the top of the run was a tow rope pulled by a repurposed auto engine. Rick was a lifeguard at Ledbetter and Hendry’s while a student at Santa Barbara High. He went on to study anthropology at Berkeley, where he saw and demonstrated against the Vietnam War, later transferring to and graduating from UC Santa Barbara in 1966.

After college, Rick went on to study at Hastings College of Law, graduating in 1971. In the winter of 1969, he took a break from law school and visited his sister Adair at her UCLA dorm. On a Westwood sidewalk, he ran into a friend heading to the grocery store with recent art school graduate named Shirley Kay Connolly. Rick soon began dropping by her apartment to chat, and on their first date they saw a Robert Redford skiing movie, “Downhill Racer,” (his choice.) Another early date was to a secret underground Mexican restaurant, Lupe’s Carnitas, in a residential garage.

Rick and his future wife moved up to the Bay Area so Rick could finish his law degree while she worked as a stewardess with TWA. Rick co-founded Bayview-Hunters Point Foundation, where he worked from 1972 to 1976 providing free legal aid to the Black community.

In the late 1970s, Rick and Shirley lived in Venice and Vicenza, Italy, where they both worked on several research grants. They became fluent Italian speakers, and developed a lifelong love of Italy’s art, culture and food.

From 1979 to 1986, Rick taught environmental law and evidence advocacy at the University of San Diego School of Law. Rick’s students, fellow surfers, outed him as one of their own by the telltale drip of ocean water from his sinuses that sometimes happened in the lecture hall following a dawn surf session.

Rick’s son Noah was born in 1982, and when he was 4, the family moved back to Santa Barbara. For a time, there were three generations living under one roof at Rick’s family home on State Street.

At the Santa Barbara Public Defender’s Office, Rick found his lifelong calling, and he would continue to practice there until his retirement in 2009. Rick believed his role was to stand as a champion in the way of a powerful and often corrupt legal system that steamrolled the powerless. He was recognized as a formidable trial attorney, and won numerous awards, including the Order of Reasonable Doubt from the San Francisco Trial Lawyers Association. With his friend John Mitchell, Rick co-authored three textbooks focused on evidence handling and criminal procedure.

Later, Rick focused on legal work in Santa Barbara County’s drug court system, advocating to route nonviolent drug offenders to treatment programs rather than prison. For years, he couldn’t walk the neighborhood without being greeted and thanked by recovering addicts and families. Variations of “You helped me get my life back on track, Mr. Barron,” were a near-daily refrain.

To everyone who knew him, Rick was a beacon of fair-mindedness, compassion and resourcefulness. He was a brilliant but untroubled man, who gave people the benefit of the doubt and saw goodness and humor everywhere. His mind produced endless contraptions and devices, and he filled his workshop with sketches for inventions, sculptures, furniture and carpentry projects. He made shelves, cabinets, a sled, a unicycle and shaped his own balsa longboard.

He was a fine woodworker, and hand-carved his family’s Brazilian rosewood dining table with elaborate original Celtic knotwork. For his son’s wedding in Maine, he carved a pair of moose cake toppers. He never met a storage compartment, carabiner or lanyard he didn’t like. Under his care, a profusion of roses, staghorn ferns and tall bamboo stalks have sprouted in his yard.

The love of surfing, skiing and the outdoors extended until the very end of Rick’s life. For two decades, he treasured a heavily customized Bayliner powerboat he named “Waive Time,” (a surfer/lawyer pun amusing only to him), a vessel which gave him and his friends access to uncrowded breaks at the Hollister Ranch. Rick’s favorite was the right at Cojo, which, if he made it past the closeout section, provided a glassy long ride and a rare little tube to duck his head into.

One time, Rick and his son tried to radio his long-time friend, lobsterman Ken Bortolazzo, who was also at sea that day aboard his boat “T.K.O.,” to tell him Cojo was going off. But bad reception, similar-sounding vessel callsigns, and a language barrier got in the way. A Japanese fishing boat responded – “This is vessel Taiko,” – and a very confusing VHF conversation followed.

The spring before Rick’s death was an epic snow dump season at Mammoth, and he skied several full weeks on his beloved Ikon season pass at the age of 78. His favorite run was St. Anton. He always stayed at Motel 6 (a concession that came only after decades of sleeping in his van) and he loved to eat at the Pita Pit in Mammoth Lakes.

Despite his remarkable physical fitness and joie de vivre, Rick Barron was denied a liver transplant by Cedars-Sinai hospital and died at home shortly after discharge. Rick is survived in Santa Barbara by his wife, Shirley Connolly, his son Noah Barron, his daughter-in-law Hayley O’Connor and his 6-month-old granddaughter Daisy Jane Barron.


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