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Longtime Santa Barbara Arts Writer Joan Crowder Dies

Joan Crowder, a longtime Central Coast journalist, volunteer and theater critic, died Tuesday while vacationing in Hawaii.

Family, former coworkers and local theater staff remembered Crowder Thursday as a vibrant, generous woman who loved nature, the arts and traveling.

“She’s just amazing,” said Scott Crowder, one of her three sons, who lives in Granada Hills. “Most people are so greedy with their time; she’ll drive all the way down to visit.”

Scott Crowder said his mother, who lived in Cambria, was visiting Hawaii with her boyfriend, Gary Schlichter, a man she’d reconnected with after a number of years.

Crowder, 80, was found in waters near the Outrigger Canoe Club in Waikiki, authorities told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser.

The paper reported that a lifeguard and people with the Outrigger Canoe Club pulled Crowder from the water and tried to revive her using a portable defibrillator. She died at the hospital.

An autopsy was completed, but the cause of death was not available pending further test results, which can take up to 12 weeks to be returned, according to the Honolulu Medical Examiner’s office.

Crowder was well known on the Central Coast as a longtime staff writer for the Santa Barbara News-Press lifestyle section, as well as her more recent freelance work for The Tribune and The Cambrian.

She worked at the News-Press starting in the late 1970s through the ‘90s.

“Her specialty was the arts, of all sorts really,” said Tom Bolton, former executive editor and managing editor at the News-Press and now executive editor and partner at Noozhawk.

Bolton recalled Joan Crowder’s generosity, such as when she hosted parties at her Victorian home for News-Press staff.

Her work first appeared in The San Luis Obispo Tribune in 2001. Her Elephant Seal News column appeared monthly in weekly The Cambrian, and her reviews of local plays appeared in both publications.

“She’s always really, really supportive of local theater,” said Craig Shafer, communications manager for PCPA. “She really cared about her craft of writing and I think it really showed in her reviews.”

Added Erik Austin, artistic director with Kelrik Productions: “She was a really down-to-earth lady. She was super fun to talk to; you would just gossip a little.”

Scott Crowder said his mother was born premature, weighing in at only 3 ½ pounds, in 1934 in Redwood City.

“She was kind of a miracle child to begin with,” he said.

His mother studied journalism at Stanford University, where she met his father, John Crowder (the couple later divorced).

They raised sons Craig, Scott and Andy in Santa Barbara.

Crowder was a longtime oil painter, played tennis twice a week, and traveled all over the world.

When her kids were young, Scott Crowder recalled, the family would “go cross country in a pop-top camper and go all the way to Florida, and all the way to Banff (in Alberta, Canada). We did a lot of traveling and had a beautiful life.”

Crowder also successfully battled breast cancer when she first moved to Cambria, Scott Crowder said.

More recently, the family gathered for a reunion in New Mexico, where her son Andy lives, to celebrate her 80th birthday and to honor the memory of her younger brother, who had died.

Scott Crowder said his mother had a close relationship with her only grandchild, his son, 3-year-old Koa.

“It’s going to be a different world without Gram-Gram,” Scott Crowder said, using his son’s nickname for his grandmother.

Services were pending.

[Click here to read more stories from the San Luis Obispo Tribune]

Cynthia Lambert is a reported at the San Luis Obispo Tribune. Contact her at [email protected] or 805.781.7929.

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