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Marilyn Gilbert Announced as ‘Spirit of Successful Aging’ Award Recipient

“Spirit of Successful Aging” award recipient, Marilyn Gilbert (center), flanked by Michael and Anne Towbes during a recent event announcing this year’s award recipient.
“Spirit of Successful Aging” award recipient, Marilyn Gilbert (center), flanked by Michael and Anne Towbes during a recent event announcing this year’s award recipient. (Rod Lathim photo)

The Center for Successful Aging is pleased to announce Marilyn Gilbert as the 2016 Spirit of Successful Aging award recipient. The award and accompanying video  presentation will be shown immediately preceding CSA’s annual fundraiser, “Senior (musical) Moments” at 2 p.m. Saturday, June , 2016, at the Marjorie Luke Theatre.

This original theatrical production by Rod Lathim features multi-generational performances illuminating the differences and similarities of the human experience at all ages.

The award, now in its third year, is presented to an individual who embodies the mission of CSA — to live life with zest and a commitment to community — at any age. Anyone familiar with longtime Montecito resident Marilyn Gilbert knows that she is the perfect candidate.

“This year’s choice came to us easily and unanimously,” said Bobbi Kroot, board president of CSA. “We chose Marilyn because she has given so unselfishly of her time and talents to so many organizations, including non profits and individuals in this community.”

About Marilyn Gilbert

Born and raised on the East Coast, Gilbert began a long and storied singing career at age five when she performed “God Bless America” at a school PTA meeting. Singing and music have been pillars of her life as she has performed in operas and concerts, on television and on radio.

In 1972, Gilbert was stationed in Munich, Germany, and worked as a civilian for the U.S. Army, helping to entertain American soldiers while volunteering as a Red Cross worker at an army hospital. During that time, she began studying criminology and the administration of law at the University of Maryland.

Upon her return to the United States, she entered UC Los Angeles and earned her undergraduate degree in 1976. During her time at UCLA, she was student director for the Washington, D.C. internship program and established an international internship program.

To launch the program, Gilbert accepted an internship as a translating editor at the International Labor Organization (a part of the United Nations) in Geneva, Switzerland, a vantage point from which she could develop positions for other students overseas. The following year 20 students were sent overseas to work in various countries as interns.

Today, the UCLA International Internship program is a year-round program that gives an annual award in Gilbert’s name to the student who contributes most to the international program.

After graduating from UCLA with a bachelor’s degree in Political Science, Gilbert attended Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, graduating in 1979.

For over 20 years, she was a practicing litigating attorney representing plaintiffs in the field of employment discrimination. She is a former director of the Santa Barbara County Bar Association and was delegate chair to the California State Bar Convention in 1992-93. She is a member of the California State Bar, the Ninth Federal District Courts and the Bar of the United States Supreme Court. 

As a law professor at the Santa Barbara College of Law, she taught first year torts for three years.

Marilyn Gilbert with her late husband, Nathan Rundlett. The pair formed what was to become Opera Santa Barbara. Click to view larger
Marilyn Gilbert with her late husband, Nathan Rundlett. The pair formed what was to become Opera Santa Barbara. (Courtesy photo)

Over the period of her active law practice, she represented clients in gender, age and race discrimination cases against large unions, school districts, cities and large corporations.

Many of her cases resulted not only in money damages for her clients but also changes in the practices of these defendants, providing more opportunities for her clients and for others as well.

She served as a co-chair of the Anti-Defamation League’s Interfaith Committee and was a member of the Civil Rights Committee of the Santa Barbara chapter of the Anti-Defamation League. As part of her duties, she chaired a program entitled “Sustenance for Strangers; Breaking Barriers by Breaking Bread,” bringing together people of diverse backgrounds in a home social setting.

Between 2003-08, Gilbert served as lawyer emeritus for the California State Bar as part of the Legal Aid Foundation’s Legal Resource Center, assisting people without lawyers in pursuing justice.

Gilbert’s Musical Career

In 1993, Gilbert and her husband, Nathan Rundlett, founded the Santa Barbara Grand Opera (now known as Opera Santa Barbara) and were respectively its executive director and artistic director.

Under their leadership, the company’s productions grew from three performances of one opera in 1993 to over a dozen performances of three staged operas in 1999, with additional outreach and concert performances to thousands of audience members including elementary school students.

Among the operas they produced were Carmen, Amahl and the Night Visitors, La Traviata, Don Pasquale, Rigoletto, Il Trovatore, Cosi Fan Tutte, Don Giovanni, Madame Butterfly and Tosca.

They also produced an outdoor Spanish operetta performed for free to thousands of Santa Barbarans in the Superior Courthouse Sunken Gardens as a fundraiser for the Legal Aid Foundation.

After leaving the Santa Barbara Grand Opera in 1999, the pair formed Marette Enterprises, a nonprofit production company dedicated to raising money for other nonprofits. In keeping with that mission, they produced a highly successful musical, “Trial by Jury” by Arthur Sullivan and W. S. Gilbert as a fundraiser to benefit the Legal Aid Foundation.

Another mission of Marette Enterprises was to create performance opportunities for ethnic minorities. In keeping with that goal, Gilbert and Rundlett formed The Marian Anderson Society and presented an African American singer in a highly successful recital.

In 2007, and for the next six years, Gilbert produced an annual concert which honored our military veterans. This free concert included the Westmont Orchestra conducted by Dr. Michael Shasberger, the Santa Barbara Chorale Society, speakers and honorees.

In 2006-07, Marilyn and Rundlett (who died in January 2013) produced and performed in a two-person comedy entitled “Alas Poor Fred” at the Center Stage Theater and at the Music Academy, also as a benefit for the Legal Aid Foundation. In a review by Casa Magazine the pair was called “The Lunt and Fontaine of Santa Barbara.”

In 2009, Gilbert directed “Trial by Jury,” in which Rundlett appeared as the Judge, one of the principal players.

Gilbert’s many honors include the 2003 Hope Award from the Santa Barbara Public Education Foundation, 2005 Pro Bono Community Service Award from the Santa Barbara County Bar Association and 2007 first annual Hero for Justice award by the Santa Barbara Legal Aid Foundation.

“I can’t think of a better example of ‘successful aging’ than Marilyn Gilbert — a role model for all of us,” said Sara Miller McCune. 

Gilbert lives in her Montecito home, which her husband built, and feels fortunate to call Santa Barbara home.

Music, education and justice are her passions (although not necessarily in that order), and they have served as her guide throughout her life. 

About “Senior (musical) Moments”

“Senior (musical) Moments,” conceived and directed by playwright and director Rod Lathim, is the fourth annual benefit production for the Center for Successful Aging.

This year’s show at the Marjorie Luke Theater will have a fresh, new, intimate theatrical format featuring scenes and musical numbers that explore the joys and challenges of aging in today’s world.

Tickets for “Senior (musical) Moments” are $102.50 for VIP patron admission (reserved front section seating), $22.50 for general admission and $12.50 for child admission. Tickets include a $2.50 facility fee and are available for purchase at the Lobero box office or by calling 805.963.0761.

Joni Kelly is a communications representative for the Center for Successful Aging.

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