Santa Barbara lost one of its iconic citizens Tuesday when Larry Crandell died at his Santa Barbara home at the age of 93.
Crandell, a businessman and philanthropist, was known affectionately as “Mr. Santa Barbara.”
He was a tireless volunteer and, relying on his razor-sharp wit and self-deprecating humor, served as an emcee and auctioneer for countless charitable events for nearly six decades.
It has been estimated that he raised more than $200 million for good causes over the years.
Crandell moved last year from his longtime home in Montecito to the Vista del Monte retirement community on Modoc Road, where he died.
“Larry’s last days were peaceful, surrounded by family and friends both old and new, creating new community connections even as he departed,” according to one of his sons, Michael Crandell.
“He had an extraordinary and long life, and retained his wry sense of humor and sweet love of people throughout, serving others as he enjoyed his life to the fullest.”
Lawrence Leith Crandell was born in Lynn, Mass., on April 5, 1923.
He grew up in Newark, N.J., and was just 19 in 1943 when, like so many of the “Greatest Generation,” he answered the call of duty, and volunteered to fight in World War II.
He served as a bombardier on a B-24 Liberator in Europe, and narrowly escaped with his life when his plane was ditched in the Adriatic Sea.
After the war, Crandell attended Syracuse University, where he played basketball and earned a bachelor’s degree.
He married his wife, Marcy, in 1950, and the couple moved to Santa Barbara in 1960.
Crandell worked in real estate and other fields of business, but made his name and found his calling as a volunteer fundraiser for local charities.
The following quotes from Silver Tongue — Secrets of Mr. Santa Barbara, the book his son, Steven, wrote about him, offer some insight into his life:
“Larry grew up poor and virtually fatherless in the Great Depression, was awarded a Purple Heart after serving with the Army Air Corps in World War II, rose to early success with Arthur Murray’s ballroom dance business in the 1950s, and then found his true calling as a community leader in Santa Barbara.
“For more than five decades, Larry has used laughter to loosen purse strings, getting the rich and powerful to part with their money for charity. He’s also helped hundreds of nonprofits as a volunteer leader and as an emcee/auctioneer.
“Now in his 90s, he continues to inspire people with humor. To put it simply, Larry has a talent for turning good fun into fun good.”
In a 2010 interview with Noozhawk, Crandell joked that, in his 80s, “the demand for my services is dwindling … I used to do 100 events in a year.”
For him, however, it was always about service to community.
“In spite of my best efforts to achieve Chapter 7 of the bankruptcy code,” he told Noozhawk, “I have a little more than I need so I don’t think I do anything for money. I have Social Security and made an investment with a real estate guy I know named Michael Towbes, and he seems to have done well for himself.”
Among the organizations Crandell assisted over the years are AllforOne Youth & Mentoring, Arthritis Foundation, Channel Islands YMCA, Douglas Family Preserve, Goleta Teen of the Year, Hospice of Santa Barbara, Marymount of Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara Athletic Round Table, Santa Barbara PARC Foundation, Teddy Bear Cancer Foundation, Transition House, United Boys & Girls Clubs of Santa Barbara County, Westmont College and dozens of local public schools.
A popular lunch companion, Crandell often held court, accompanied by his many friends, at dining establishments around town, including Harry’s Plaza Café and the Coral Casino Beach & Cabana Club.
In addition to regular Saturday morning workouts at the Coral Casino, family and friends often found Crandell on the floor in his living room, exercising and stretching while watching his beloved Los Angeles Lakers on television.
Crandell was preceded in death by his wife, Marcy, in 2008.
Survivors include sons Larry Jr., Michael (wife Sunny), Steven (wife Kathleen Clancy); a daughter, Leslie; nine grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.
The family is planning a public celebration of Crandell’s life and will announce the time and place in due course.
In lieu of flowers, the family asks anyone with generous intentions to donate to the following nonprofit organizations: Unity Shoppe, LifeChronicles; the Larry Crandell Fund at the Scholarship Foundation of Santa Barbara; and the Assisted Home Health & Hospice Foundation.
— Noozhawk executive editor Tom Bolton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.