Geneviève Marie Manset was born in Paris, France, on January 3, 1927. Her mother, Genevieve “Gigi” Robinson-Riley, was born in San Francisco. At 2 years old, Gigi moved to France where her father had been appointed U.S. vice consul in Nice. In the early 1920s, Gigi married Georges Octave Manset. They had four children: Eliane, Genevieve, George and Frances.
When Genevieve was just 7, her father died, leaving Gigi alone to raise four young children. She moved the family to Nice where little Genny attended a small convent boarding school. During vacations, Gigi took the children on adventures all over Europe to see the sights and visit family. They were in Rome when the war broke out in ’39. They quickly moved to the seemingly safer family home on the coast of Brittany. It did not take long for a German general to commandeer the house for their local headquarters. One night, Gigi “stole” back her car, gathered up the children and headed to Portugal. With her dual citizenship, Gigi was able to gain passage on one of the last ships out of Lisbon. They came straight to Santa Barbara, where Gigi’s parents had relocated in the early 1930s.
So in 1941, at age 14, Genevieve found herself at La Cumbre Junior High School. Her teenage girlfriends were intrigued by this seemingly sophisticated newcomer with heavy accent and a strand of pearls. She was outgoing and made many friends. One Santa Barbara High School yearbook caption reads: “Swing and sway with Genny Manset.”
In 1946, at 19, she married Robert Laselle Thornburgh. The following year, their first daughter, Yvonne, was born. The young family moved to Stanford where Bob attended law school and soon their second daughter, Suzanne, was born.
Upon graduation they moved back to Santa Barbara. Bob went to work with his father, Laselle, at the law firm of Griffith & Thornburgh. They built a modest, single-wall, board-and-batten cottage on their family lot way out of town on the beach at Padaro Lane. In time the tiny house was added on to. Two more daughters, Annette and Mimi, were born. The young Thornburgh girls grew up with the freedom to roam the beach in ways that would have made Tom Sawyer proud. The Padaro house has been the focal point of many long beach days, tide pooling, steamed clams, volleyball, body-surfing, cocktails, bonfires, babies, weddings and Fourth-of-July fireworks.
Genny and Bob enjoyed many a night socializing with lots of dear friends over the years. Some of their favorite haunts were Casa de Sevilla and Joe’s Café. At the Miramar, she would chat in French with Jacques the beach guard. She partook in an occasional bourbon Southside at the Valley Club. She was an active member of the Junior League of Santa Barbara, once dancing in one of its Lobero Theatre performances.
But where Genny was most content was at the beach, in shorts, barefoot, cooking up great meals, sharing her energetic spirit, humor and mischievous looks. She had a quick wit, a sarcastic roll of the eyes, was well-read, and lovingly tended her garden of roses, herbs, annuals and fruit. She loved board games, played bridge well, and worked a weekly crossword. Daily she read the paper outside, chatting from deck to deck with neighbors. She loved watching sports, especially tennis (her father had been a French tennis champion). She engaged us in “Genny-speak” — her lively non-linear story-telling. She couldn’t sit still for a minute. She was like a fifth sister.
Genny and Bob loved to fish, and when she wasn’t surf casting or dropping a line at the Channel Islands, one would most likely find them fly fishing at Mammoth Hot Creek. They bought a cabin there in 1965, and it is where yearly they spent the six months of trout season. In later years, they also left for New Zealand every January for further pursuit of that mythical trout. Just like the beach house, the Mammoth House was generously shared with four generations of family, friends and acquaintances.
Genny had the smallest kitchen with an old electric coil stove. Out of this little corner came the best meals with the freshest ingredients, a blend of her French roots and earthy sophistication. For those of us fortunate enough to share in these meals there was never a doubt that we were experiencing food beyond measure. An exquisite meal was a daily occurrence whether the table was full of grateful guests, or on quieter nights when it was just she and Bob and a little candlelight.
She loved her little town of Carpinteria. It is hard to imagine how her favorite eateries are going to manage without her slipping into the back kitchen with “suggestions” as to a spice or technique. Café Luna will not be the same without Geneviève dipping her brioche in her café au lait each morning on the sunny porch, while chatting away with some complete stranger.
Genny was modest, unpretentious and generous. She gave anonymously to our local charities. She loved her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. She was always there at just the right time to lend her support to enrich the lives of each. We all had extra courage to push our boundaries because deep down we knew that if we fell, “Granny” would be there to pick us up.
She will be deeply missed by her husband of 67 years, Bob Thornburgh; by her daughters, Yvonne Neumann (Andy), Suzy Blossom, Anny Annable (John) and Mimi Sheehan (Tom); by her grandchildren, Emilie Neumann (Sameer Pandya), Tarek Neumann; Mya Thornburgh (Michel Brewer), Chris, Chase and Abby Blossom, and Genny Rose Annable; by her great-grandsons, Ravi and Ishan; and by her multitudes of Manset, Maher, Adolph and Thornburgh nieces and nephews.
Genny is survived by her sister, Frances Maher. She is pre-deceased by her brother, George Manset, and her sister, Eliane Adolph.
The Catholic Church was a constant in her life. On January 8, 2014, with all the family by her side, Father Steve from Our Lady of Mount Carmel Catholic Church gave the last rites. A beautiful special Mass was later held at the church in her honor to celebrate the vivacious woman she was.
Memorial contributions in Genny’s name may be made to “George and Peggy Manset Memorial Scholarship Fund” (made payable to the Scholarship Foundation of Santa Barbara, P.O. Box 3620, Santa Barbara 93130) to support scholarships for students who play tennis and have financial needs. Click here to make an online donation.
Genny did not want a funeral. “Just paddle out in front of the house for me,” she said. The same house and beach where hundreds of friends and family have gathered for more than six decades. Where she always held court on the deck, greeting with open arms, leaning over the balcony, orchestrating each of us with waving hands, making sure we were enjoying ourselves, enjoying it all.
She enjoyed it all. She lived life well. We miss her.