Each morning used to begin with at least one or two cups of coffee, a self-prescribed pick-me-up that longtime UC Santa Barbara administrator Gene Lucas adhered to for more than three decades.
The travel mug the executive vice chancellor clutched on a recent morning in his Cheadle Hall office was sans the stuff, since Lucas gave up his caffeine fix in favor of healthier blood pressure six months ago.
The change, although minor, signaled what would inevitably come — a complete upheaval of the 62-year-old’s daily routine when he retires Dec. 31.
Lucas has served UCSB as a professor and/or administrator for the past 36 years, the last 11 in his current post. Throw in four years of undergraduate studies, and Lucas has spent well more than half of his life on campus.
Separation anxiety aside, Lucas said he’s ready to hand the university over to fully capable hands he helped hire years ago.
“It’s just a wonderful university,” he said. “I’ll miss the people. I won’t miss the problems.”
Lucas, a Los Angeles native, still recalls his first visit to UCSB, a trip to see his older sister who was a student at the time. Seven years later, Lucas enrolled there himself before graduating with a nuclear engineering degree in 1973.
He went on to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and was set to take a teaching job there when a UCSB professor lured him back to the coastal city for an assistant professor job.
“It was a good university at the time,” he recalled. “The engineering program was just starting up. Now it’s a great university.”
For someone who never aspired to be an administrator, Lucas certainly made an impression on those who did.
Lucas counted the dozens of positions he has held at UCSB over the years on his fingers, most in the College of Engineering with titles ranging from professor and acting dean to acting university librarian and more.
UCSB Chancellor Henry Yang recently commended Lucas’ work, acknowledging his deep devotion.
“His leadership will have a long-lasting impact on our campus, and we will always be grateful,” Yang said in a statement. “As he and his wife, Susan, prepare for the exciting next step in their lives, we wish them both the very best, just as they have given the very best to our campus.”
Lucas humbly agreed that he must have unknowingly developed desirable leadership traits.
He listed surviving the budget crisis of the past decade, strategic planning and guiding the re-accreditation process as highlights of his career, which has also seen UCSB rise to a No. 2 worldwide ranking for its impact on the field of science research — just behind MIT.
Lucas, a Goleta resident, said he plans to travel with his wife of 42 years during retirement, as well as more reading, walking and hiking.
“I, at one point, was good at golf,” he said, noting it has been eight years since he has held a club.
Lucas also hopes to spend more time with his three grown sons and three grandchildren, the oldest of which won’t be college-bound — but hopefully UCSB bound, he added — for 13 years.
Even if that doesn’t pan out, the Gauchos are likely to see more of Lucas.
“We’ll still only be four miles away,” he said.