Long-time islander Barbara Thompson Wheeler died in her home on the of April 27, 2017, following a heart attack. She spent her last days sharing memories with her family.
Barbara was born in Los Angeles on September 17, 1927, and grew up in South Pasadena, where she attended South Pasadena High School. She entered USC at age 16, displaying early the talent for involvement and leadership she showed throughout her life: she was President of Pi Beta Phi sorority, Vice President of Women Students, and, at graduation, chosen one of seven honorary ‘Helens of Troy’. Barbara was married for 25 years to cinematographer Charles F. Wheeler, with whom she had two daughters, Constance and Dana. The family lived in West Los Angeles and Pacific Palisades.
Once her children were grown, Barbara became a travel guide, successfully combining her tastes for adventure, meeting new people and organizing and hosting events. For five years, she conducted tours all over the world, enjoying especially the time spent in Africa and its wildlife. According to many letters she received from her clients, her tours were the best they had experienced. After she retired from touring, she worked as an executive assistant at 20th Century Fox and then later opened an antiques and collectibles store in West Los Angeles.
Barbara began another phase of her life when she moved to Orcas in 1993. She found so much to love in her life on the island — from its many opportunities for community involvement and the ease with which people become friends to its cultural amenities. She became active in numerous organizations and was always available to work on whatever event or fundraiser was at hand. Barbara lived in Olga in a house she described as just perfect for her, operating a guesthouse with the same exuberance and flair with which she had led tours. She became increasingly involved with the Olga Community Club, taking part in and organizing potlucks, garage sales and the remodeling and redecorating of the clubhouse. She took a delight in the history of the organization and archived many historical documents.
A devoted supporter and patron of the Orcas Chamber Music Society, Barbara not only attended almost every Chamber Festival performance, she often bought extra tickets to give to friends and acquaintances because she thought everyone should experience the beauty. The Orcas Center awarded her the 1995 Margaret Exton Award for Volunteer of the Year. She also served as President of the Friends of the Library and was a member of the Board of the Orcas Animal Protection Society for 18 years, a natural role given her great love of animals and the numerous dogs and cats with whom she shared her home.
In 2013, Barbara moved back to California in order to be closer to her family. Although it was difficult to leave Orcas, she brought her optimism and great capacity for contentment to this move as well. In San Luis Obispo, she again found a house that perfectly suited her, a community that embraced her, wild birds she loved to observe and to feed, and the opportunity, welcomed by her and her daughter, to spend more time with each other.
Preceded in death by her beloved daughter Dana, Barbara is survived by — and treasured by — her extended family. These include: her daughter Constance Faber and son-in-law Zdravko Barov; grandson Seth Faber; granddaughter-in-law Natasha Cox Faber; great-granddaughter Julia Faber; sister-in-law Ann Thompson; nieces Roxanne Van de Water, Wendy Wagner, Susan Thompson Phillips; nephew Harlan Thompson; step-granddaughter Jollee Faber Patterson; step-grandson-in-law Stuart Patterson; step-great-granddaughters Carolyn and Rebecca Patterson, Carl Faber and Sarah Marguier; and those of her daughters’ friends for whom she became an honorary mother.
Barbara felt fortunate to have had what she described as “a wonderful life.” Remembered for her generosity, she enjoyed sharing her good fortune whenever she could — not just through community service and support, but also often on an individual basis. It could be tickets, some needed funds, a stuffed animal, a batch of cookies or just passing on something she found at the Exchange or consignment shop that she thought deserved a new home with someone who needed it. Her friends and family feel that if in reading this, you are moved to extend a hand or kindness to someone, there could be no better way to honor her memory.