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Lillian Converse, inspiration for the Cancer Center of Santa Barbara

In 1949, Lillian Converse was treated for terminal cancer and traveled to Los Angeles for her care. Although she knew there was little chance of her recovery, she desired to help others with the disease in her own city. Her physician, Dr. Henry Ullmann, dreamed of having a rare, one-million-volt x-ray machine to treat cancer patients in Santa Barbara. Lillian’s husband, Elisha Converse, made this dream a reality by donating the funds in the memory of his wife and firmly establishing the tradition of community support for the Cancer Center. 

In 1950, the Cancer Center of Santa Barbara purchased this machine, one of only seven in the United States used to treat cancer at that time. This pioneering vision for a state-of-the-art cancer treatment center in Santa Barbara has blossomed into a facility committed to advancing the understanding, diagnosis, treatment, cure and prevention of cancer.

The Cancer Center of Santa Barbara joined with Sansum Clinic in 2012 to create the Cancer Center of Santa Barbara with Sansum Clinic, to realize a vision for enhancing oncology care on the Central Coast. Also born from this union was the creation of the Cancer Foundation of Santa Barbara, which has been a main line of financial support for the Cancer Center since its inception.

In 2017, Philanthropist Lady Leslie Ridley-Tree provided the leading gift for a new facility and the name of the institution was changed to honor her support. That incredible gift from Lady Ridley-Tree alongside a community partnership of donors, patients and business allowed a new cancer center to be constructed at 540 W. Pueblo Street, within two blocks of Sansum Clinic and Cottage hospital in the heart of Santa Barbara’s medical village. The new location allowed for the centralization of all outpatient cancer care under one roof, creating a seamless experience for patients. The result was one of the finest regional cancer centers in the country, with facilities, staff and technology on par with large academic centers.  

Elisha Converse, benefactor

The Cancer Center was founded as a non-profit in 1949 with a generous gift. Then and now, the Cancer Center continually reinvests its revenue into the delivery and advancement of state-of-the-art cancer care.

Images: Lillian Converse (top) and Elisha Converse