Many words come to mind in thinking about Lily Rossi: warm, caring, friend, strong work ethic, sense of humor, honest, thorough, and professional. Lily was the city clerk for Santa Barbara from 1983-1998. Not only was she an effective city clerk, but Lily also had a genuine concern for everyone who crossed her path.
As Nick Welsh of The Santa Barbara Independent wrote, “…Rossi exuded a combination of warmth, competence, and customer concern that was dramatically at odds with the stereotype of the indifferent bureaucrat. Rossi’s dedication to providing the public — and the press — with basic public information about city functions sometimes created tensions with the city administrators under whom she served. When she retired in 1998, mayor Harriet Miller issued a public proclamation extolling her graciousness, generosity, kindness, and compassion.”
Lily was born in Chicago and graduated from Northwestern University, then attended graduate school at UCLA. Lily and her husband, Patrizio Rossi (deceased), moved to Santa Barbara in the 1970s. Their daughter, Enrica Rossi Kurkulis, MD, was Lily’s pride and joy, and her two granddaughters, Gabriella and Isabella Kurkulis, were the apples of her eyes. She loved to show their photos to all who knew her.
Lily became a City of Santa Barbara employee in 1974, when former library director Robert Hart hired her to work in the Central Library. When city clerk Irene St. Onge retired in 1983, city administrator Richard Thomas appointed Lily to fill the position. She loved working with active members of the community, and she particularly enjoyed meeting the needs of the mayors and councilmembers. Some of her proudest moments occurred when she administered the oath of office to the newly elected officials in the council chambers.
Lily went above and beyond in her service to the public. For example, she went out of her way to help residents from other countries, who are annually required to submit verified proof that they are still living so that they can continue to receive pensions from their home country — often conversing with them in their native tongues. These special friends would regularly call Lily when they had questions, knowing that she would go the extra mile to assist them. When one of these friends was in failing health and needed the services of a notary, Lily used her lunch hour to transport a notary to the lady’s home.
Lily was well recognized by fellow city clerks in the City Clerks Association of California. She strongly believed that a city clerk was required to have high ethical and professional standards, even above the standards of other city employees. She wanted to teach others, connect with them, and help them personally as well as professionally. Lily was always very helpful and cooperative with her coworkers and employees, as well as our citizens, and spent many hours working on weekly council agendas, elections, advisory groups, and records management; she was committed to getting it all just right!
In 1986, The Independent gave Lily a Local Heroes award. It stated, in part, “The City Clerk’s staff is the liaison between the public and city hall, and Rossi is the ringleader. ‘We are the reference desk, the official records keepers, and archivists of the city,’ Rossi says. But the ever modest Rossi refuses to take sole credit. ‘I have the best staff in the city,’ she says.” Lily felt this as a great honor, a public reward for all of her years working and volunteering in Santa Barbara, her favorite city.
Lily was proud to be a member of the University Club, taking various city workers there to lunch from time to time and encouraging others to join. She was also a member of the Genealogical Society, where she volunteered on the weekends and helped folks trace their family roots.
During her employment with the city, Lily met Fred Carlberg, an employee of the Public Works Department. They were married in 1998. He was the love of her life, and she retired to be with him when he became ill. Fred passed away in 1999. Her retirement at City Hall was just as she planned: a reception in Room 15 prior to a regular City Council meeting in the adjacent chambers. Those attending followed Lily into the council chambers, where she received a standing ovation from many admirers, friends, and the City Council.
Several years after retirement, Lily became the city clerk for the newly incorporated City of Goleta and was instrumental in assisting Goleta to get off to a good start. “Lily took a lot of work home, but never complained,” said Goleta employee Karen Hunter.
We will miss Lily — her friendship, humor, and zest for life. Even when suffering from the effects of cancer, she was still very interested in what was going on and who was running for City Council. As demonstrated by the large gathering of past and present city officials and employees, family, and friends at her March 19 memorial service, Lily touched the lives of many people.
Linda Gunther, in her capacity as supervisor of the Santa Barbara City Administrator’s Office, worked closely with Lily Rossi, and the two remained friends until Rossi’s death.