Mary Nobles Conrad (1935-2023)

Mary Nobles Conrad and baby Kendall (courtesy)
Mary Nobles Conrad, widow of the late Barnaby Conrad. Jr., died peacefully on
November 1, 2023 in her seaside home at Rincon Point, Carpinteria after a year of
declining health. She was 88 years old. Her husband of 50 years, the author
and artist Barnaby Conrad, Jr., predeceased her in 2013.
Born February 28, 1935 to a prominent family in Pasadena, California, Mary Nobles
was the third child of Carrita Miller Nobles and Thomas Nobles. Her father died
suddenly of a heart attack on the tennis court of their Pasadena estate in 1944.
After graduating from Garrison Forrest School near Baltimore, Maryland, Mary was just
eighteen in 1953 when she married William A. Slater, Jr. of Montecito, CA. The young
couple lived in post-war Germany for two years before settling in Belvedere, California
where she raised their sons William A. Slater III and Michael A. Slater. A horsewoman
and avid tennis player, Mary had been ranked in California for sixteen-and-under tennis
players and enjoyed the game most of her long life.
After her marriage to Mr. Slater ended amicably in 1962, she married San Francisco
author, artist, bullfighter and nightclub owner Barnaby Conrad, Jr. on May 18, 1963.
Mary gave birth to their daughter, Kendall Conrad, on May 17, 1964. At their Victorian
house in Pacific Heights, the Conrads entertained friends and celebrities such as Bing
Crosby, Lucille Ball, columnist Herb Caen, and Charlton Heston, among many others.
Mary became a well-known interior decorator in partnership with the late Virginia
Lynch. An able hostess in social circles, she also enjoyed leading groups through the
giant redwoods in Muir Woods. Mary always had a soft spot for dogs and cats, so it
was no surprise that she fell in love with “Zorro”, the Texas gray tree fox that her
husband brought home one day. The pet fox, became friends with Mary’s pug Tomás,
known as “Puggy”, and inspired her husband’s children’s book Zorro: A Fox in the
City (1972).
After building a beach house at Rincon Point, in Carpinteria, just south of Santa
Barbara, the Conrads left San Francisco in 1973 and in that same year Mary helped her
husband Barnaby found the legendary Santa Barbara Writers Conference, a week-long
gathering of famous writers and eager adult students which recently celebrated its 50th
Anniversary. The first session was held at the Cate School in Carpinteria and from then
on it was mainly held at the seaside Miramar Hotel in Montecito.
For decades the Conrads hosted famous writers and celebrities to lecture and hobnob
with several hundred avid students. Among the speakers were Ray Bradbury,
Christopher Isherwood, cartoonist Charles Schulz, comedian Jonathan Winters, James
Michener, William Styron, Budd Schulberg, Fanny Flagg, Gore Vidal, Danielle Steele, and Alex Haley of Roots fame.

Among the students was the young novelist Monte Schulz, son of the creator of Peanuts, who, decades later, the Conrads would sell the Conference to in 2010, has fortuitously kept the Writers Conference going to this day.

After her husband Barnaby died in 2013, Mary shared writer’s credits with Matthew J.
Pallamary and Y. Armando Nieto when they published the 622-page history, The
Santa Barbara Writers Conference Scrapbook in 2017, and she served as the
Executive Producer of the documentary film of the same name.
Mary was an exceptional cook and hostess. Though not a professional artist, she had a
knack for decoupage, needlepoint, and making Christmas ornaments as well as very
clever and inventive dioramas. She supported animal welfare, as well as the local fire
department, veteran organizations, and cancer research. Mary also volunteered for the annual Amethyst Ball charity held at the Coral Casino. She will be missed by her family
and friends. ¡Vaya con dios, Madre!
Mary is survived by a sister Carrita Smith, a half-brother John Nelson, her sons William and Michael Slater; her daughter Kendall Conrad; her step-children Barnaby Conrad III, Cayetana Conrad, and Winston Conrad; her grandchildren Will and Adam Slater; Morgan, Conrad, and Sammy Slater; Luisa and Fernanda Cameron; and her great-grandson Kai Slater.
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