In Passing: Judy Pearce

By Hattie Beresford   |   October 21, 2020
Judy, Winni Bennett, and Winni’s daughter Maria in front of the adobe house the Bennetts built by hand and over many years in Montecito

Judy Guitteau Pearce died last month after a long bout with cancer. Her kind heart, enthusiastic and friendly character, and her deep passion and first hand knowledge of the history of Santa Barbara and Montecito will always be appreciated and severely missed. Judy kept the stories of early Montecito alive, those passed down to her by her grandmother and mother and those she experienced herself. She knew intimately the way it was, and I was a lucky recipient of both her memories and her friendship.

For a time Judy had her own column in the Montecito Journal called “Montecito Scrapbook” in which she regaled the community with her stories. Her grandmother had worked as a cook for the Ernest Thayer family and so she wrote “The Man Who Wrote ‘Casey at the Bat.’” An avid equestrian, she wrote numerous reminiscences about riding and horses in Montecito, such as “Days of Horses and Wide Open Spaces.” 

Her grandfather King, whose father worked as a gardener at one of the estates, used to race his burro named Jenny on the racetrack around today’s Bird Refuge. He got her speed up by blowing air into her ear through a hose, and he rode her to Montecito School each day. Her friend Armand Schmitter said he used the hose trick to get his donkey to Cold Spring School on time. 

Judy in the dress she made for Fiesta in the 1950s when she rode with the Santa Barbara Bowl Riders

Story after story, Judy had them. She knew where houses had been moved. She knew who lived in each one. And people talked to her. George Hammond, her best friend’s father, told her that because the Chicago meat packing moguls, Swift, Armour, and Cudahy, all lived near each other above East Valley Road, that area was called “the butcher block.” Judy’s grandpa used to chauffeur for Pearl Chase, and he said she was the most beautiful girl in the town. Judy’s mother told her that during the war, lawns reaching the coast highway in Montecito were plowed up and potatoes planted. “That was during the first World War,” she’d added.

I first met Judy when I began writing for the Montecito Journal and working with Maria Herold of the Montecito Association History Committee, another keeper of Montecito’s stories. I immediately liked her. How could you not like this bright, friendly woman wearing a cheerful daisy in her hair? We met for coffee occasionally to talk history, and she drove me up and down the lanes of Montecito pointing out places and telling stories. In 2014, she invited me to join her and five old friends for lunch. They, too, had stories to tell and they wanted me to hear them. (I cannot begin to express how privileged and blessed I felt.)

Judy (left) and friends in the Fiesta parade during the 1950s

And so in April 2014, we met up at the home of Florence and Jerry Dunn in Mission Canyon for lunch and conversation with Winni Bennett, who together with her husband built their own adobe home, and the three Borgatello sisters, whose brothers had formed Marborg. At the time Ida was 96, Laura was 98, and Augusta was 100 years old. It was there that Judy told one of my favorite stories. 

“One story my mother told me was about a woman who was a cook in Montecito,” said Judy, “and the family for whom she worked made her stay and cook on Christmas day. Now, Mother always said that when she took a job she told them, ‘I don’t work Christmas. Expect me to work Christmas, don’t even give me the job.’ But this employer demanded that the cook stay and work. And what they’d given her for a Christmas present was a new uniform. So she stuffed the turkey with it!  She set the turkey on the table and walked out the back door.”

They’re all gone now, Florence, Winni, Ida, Laura, and Augusta, and with the passing of Judy, the stories are still, the daisy wilted. I am lucky to have had her bright spirit my life. 

Requiescant in pace, Judy, I’ll always remember the laughter of daisies.


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