Lady Leslie Ridley-Tree
Lady Leslie Ridley-Tree was rightfully known as as the “Philanthropist of Santa Barbara,” but here are a few things you may not have known about her. (Ridley-Tree family photo)

We knew Lady Leslie Ridley-Tree as the “Philanthropist of Santa Barbara.”

As we lay her to rest, her presence in our community will continue as we pass by the many buildings and plaques that carry her name: The Ridley-Tree Cancer Center at Sansum Clinic, the Ridley-Tree Education Center at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art, the Westmont Ridley-Tree Museum of Art at Westmont College.

It is not hyperbole to say that if Lady Ridley-Tree’s name was attached to a charitable event, it leveraged additional significant contributions.

She became a symbol of giving for the community and, for many, she set an example about how to give. She began to define philanthropy the way that brands come to identify the thing — to “Google” means to search or to “Xerox” is to copy.

In a way, Santa Barbara thrived with her. And in a way, her legend expanded beyond herself.

And yet, in the quiet moments, there was also the real Leslie. A tremendous and complex woman whose big life no single person knew in its complete picture.

It is in this vein that her family and friends will remember her.

Here is what you can’t Google about Lady Leslie Ridley-Tree but what those who loved her closely knew and wanted to share:

» Her favorite painting was a valueless 4”x4” still life that was passed down in her family by her aunt, Rovena.

» She read her Prayer Book every morning.

» She took her grandson to his first Star Wars movie.

» She loved her late husband, Paul, until her last breath.

» She drove across the country several times living out of a blue VW microbus.

» She always carried a handkerchief in her purse.

» She saved every thank-you letter written by student recipients of her scholarship.

» She could cut you to the quick with one word.

» During the COVID-19 pandemic, she gave money to every staff member at Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital to show support for their efforts.

» She never wrote a single speech and always spoke off the cuff.

» She hoped to inspire the best in everyone around her.

We will miss our Leslie and celebrate her life at 2:30 p.m. Oct. 29 at All Saints-by-the-Sea Episcopal Church, 83 Eucalyptus Lane in Montecito. Space is very limited and a livestream will be provided. No flowers.

Please send donations to your favorite charity in her memory.