Manny Santana, who died this week at 81, was large in every way. He was generous to any who needed a lift, a good meal, an extra drink, or a reason to get through the day. santanas.jpgAn exuberant artist and bon vivant, Manny gave incalculable gifts to our community — the Cabrillo Music Festival, two vibrant restaurants, support for the arts. But mostly Manny was gifted at being a human being. His very presence on this earth was uplifting. And yes, he did look just like an Olmec god! – as this photo of him with his wife Alice, on his 70th birthday, amply demonstrates.

When he walked into the room, the testosterone level soared. He was unbelievably attractive – to men and women alike, all of whom were drawn to that something, that blend of play, wisdom and high spirit that Manny owned in spades. I had many a great glass of wine that I could never have afforded, poured by Manny from his endless collection of fine wines. Eating and drinking with Manny, listening to him laugh, watching him sparkle, and delighting in his family — these are some of my happiest Santa Cruz memories.

I’m having trouble believing that he’s gone. His appetite for life was unmatched. We should be grateful that he settled here, gave more than he received and is now with his beloved Alice toasting the saints (especially the naughty ones) somewhere in God’s atelier.

To say that Manuel Santana will be missed doesn’t even come close.