A Seeker on a Lifelong Mission: A Eulogy for Hal Conklin
By Jerry Roberts of Newsmakers
(Editor's note: On Wednesday night, hundreds of Hal Conklin's closest friends joined family members on the steps of the Old Mission Santa Barbara for a service in celebration of the extraordinary life of the former mayor, longtime council member and all-time community hero. Among the speakers was school board member Laura Capps, whose reflections and remembrance of Hal we're publishing today).
Our thanks to the Conklin family – which is quite a big one – and the Free Methodist Church for all the work that went into this evening. Our community needed this, I needed this – and you have given us a lasting gift.
And how appropriate for us to gather here on the steps of the Old Mission - with its expansive vista down the city all the way to the ocean and Sterns Warf – the place Hal protected, nurtured and loved with all his heart.
I admire Hal for so many reasons – beginning with how he was a man of deep faith. So here we are on the Mission Steps. I remember as a kid when beloved Father Virgil used to say, as he welcomed us to Fiesta Pequena - “God is as present out here as he is inside”.
I also admire him for what a family man he was – the inspiring romance he had with Haley – and hearing such sweet stories from his sons about the relationship the three Conklin boys – now men – had with their dad.
I’m speaking tonight not just for me, but for my family – many of us - but especially my dad, my mom, and my brother Todd.
The Capps family has the collective good fortune of calling Hal one of our closest and most cherished friends. Over the last 50 years of our lives, we’ve shared many meals, weddings and, thanks to Haley, a recent baby shower; and our work, our commitments have aligned and intersected in profound ways.:
- A commitment to the role of democracy and the need to fortify it, especially on the local level. Way back, when Hal arrived in Santa Barbara, he and my dad were involved in the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions, and went on to share a lifetime committed to ideals we take for granted. My dad just loved Hal. They shared decades of conversations, laughs, and a deep respect.
- A commitment to civility and the dire need for our leaders on all levels to simply treat one another as humans first, rather than partisans. Hal provided this kind of leadership (organizing bipartisan retreats for members) in the House of Representatives when my mom served there. Civility and collegiality were second nature to him – long before Michelle Obama encouraged the “We Go High” approach. And he made us better for it.
A commitment to environment -- and the solemn responsibility we all have to be stewards of this earth and live in harmony with it, with simple actions such as recycling.
As a kid, I knew that recycling was what we did: I remember smashing cans and taking them to the center on Garden Street. It was only later when I joined the Community Environmental Council that I learned the extent of how revolutionary the work was that Hal and others forged back in those early days of the movement. Now environmentalism is part of Santa Barbara’s DNA.
And a commitment to fostering community – the simple act of breaking bread together, neighbor to neighbor, person to person – in order to build stronger ties to one another.
After the fire and debris flow, Hal and my brother Todd created the Common Table Foundation to bring us all closer together by sharing a meal together at events all across this community.
Hal put it so naturally back then – he said, “We needed to rebuild our physical infrastructure after the devastation of that storm, but we also needed to rebuild our human infrastructure” and that’s what those Common Table events were about.
But more than the actual work was the beautiful way that Hal made you feel when you talked with him.
I remember seeking his advice a few years ago about an important life decision – as so many people have done. I came in to meet him a bit flustered and a little late. And as I arrived at Jane restaurant, there he was, holding court, sitting back in his seat with that big smile and relaxed demeanor, and instantly my blood pressure reduced. And he listened.
Hal made time for people, he didn’t seem rushed, he had the wise ability to not take everything so seriously, but to get to the heart of the matter.
Somehow long ago, Hal figured out how to be an elder in our community without being elderly!
He found that magic balance of already possessing so many of life’s answers while still being curious and asking the right questions.
He was a seeker – he was clearly on a lifelong mission. And he felt a palpable urgency about doing it that defied his calm demeanor and sage presence. He seemed to vibrate with an energy that was at the same time relaxed and reassuring.
Maya Angelou once said, “I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
The words I use when I think about how Hal made me feel is “at home.” He made me feel at home. More at ease, more grounded. Perhaps even nostalgic.
And this home that we all share couldn’t have been more central to who he was. He shaped it in countless ways – he protected it for future generations.
Hal is synonymous with the spirit of Santa Barbara. And his spirit is grounded here, in this place, in the wonderful community of Santa Barbara that we are all blessed -- thanks to Hal Conklin -- to call our home.
- Laura Capps
(A few months before he died in May, Hal Conklin graciously gave one of his final in-depth interviews to Newsmakers. You can find it here).