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Sunday, December 16 , 2018, 7:07 pm | Fair 57º


Bruce O’Neal, Longtime Community and Education Leader, Dies at Age 90

His passing hits particularly hard among members of Partners in Education, one of many organizations with which he was active

Whether driving around town in his black Ford T-Bird or spending time with friends and family, longtime community leader Bruce O’Neal was a Santa Barbara staple. The 90-year-old resident died Oct. 26 in Burbank after a lengthy illness, according to a news release from the family.

“Bruce could be seen ‘tooling’ around Santa Barbara in his 1956 black T-Bird,” the statement read. For the past 20 years, O’Neal “enjoyed a life of travel and leisure, which included local movies, theater performances, dinners and other community events with his devoted partner, Dr. Mary Scopatz, who was with him at the time of his death.”

Born in Alexandria, Va., O’Neal moved to Santa Barbara at age 13 and attended Santa Barbara High School. There, he met his future wife, Georgia, and they attended USC together. They were married in 1941, and O’Neal served in the U.S. Navy from 1944 to 1945. He pursued an economics degree at UCSB and opened The Barn Furniture Store on Micheltorena Street in 1948, where he worked until his retirement 31 years later.

O’Neal leaves a long and meaningful legacy in Santa Barbara’s education community.

“All of us associated with Santa Barbara Partners in Education feel a great sense of loss with the passing of Bruce O’Neal,” said Michelle Magnusson, development and membership director of Partners in Education, with which O’Neal was active.

O’Neal was also actively involved with his church, First Presbyterian Church of Santa Barbara, as a member, trustee and elder. He was also a former president of the Santa Barbara school board, president of the Rotary Club of Santa Barbara, and a member of the Santa Barbara Region Chamber of Commerce and a host of other organizations.

“Bruce personified Partners in so many ways,” Magnusson said.

O’Neal served in 1977 as chairman of the Community Career Development Council, the precursor to Partners in Education. He also served on the Santa Barbara Industry Education Council and actively participated on the Board of Partners.

“He demonstrated his commitment to all students and his effective voice among the business leaders,” she said. “Whether driving around town in his classic T-Bird — with his signature smile — or guiding the board on a tough issue, Bruce seemed to be there when you needed him. He was a classic. We will miss him but promise to do our best to continue the legacy that he started in 1977.”

O’Neal recently moved into the Vintage Burbank Senior Assisted Living Residence to be closer to his daughter, Kaaron Williams, son-in-law Randall and granddaughter Amber. His son Brian lives in La Palma, his son Don lives in Falls Church, Va., with his partner Bob Moore, and daughter Sharone Lathrop lives in McLean, Va., with her husband, Jim Brown. Grandson Dr. Scott O’Neal lives with his wife, Lisa, and their son, Grady, in West Miami, Fla; and Eric O’Neal, his wife, Brandi, and children Kayla and Jayden live in Mission Viejo.

A service for O’Neal will be held at 1 p.m. Dec. 4 at First Presbyterian Church, with friends and family gathering afterward. Notes of condolence can be sent to Mary Scopatz, 94 La Cumbre Circle, Santa Barbara, Calif., 93105.

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk or @NoozhawkNews.

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