By Raiza Giorgi 

With her bright red hair and beaming smile, Laura Kath has been a public figure in the Santa Ynez Valley for the past three decades.

Along with her many talents for public relations and promotions, she volunteered her energy and voice to thousands of spectators as emcee at many parades and other public events — she spent more than a dozen years as the emcee for Danish Days, Julefest, Los Alamos Old Days, and many more. 

She died on Wednesday, Feb. 5, at the age of 59 after a long battle with cancer. 

“I have been going through photos the past few days and remembering all the things we accomplished together. She did so much for Solvang and the valley, and was widely loved and respected. Above all else she was my friend, and I am going to miss her,” said Tracy Farhad, former executive director of the Solvang Conference and Visitors Bureau. 

Kath worked as the public relations director for the Solvang CVB for 12 years. Farhad said Kath was the reason Solvang ended up on so many Top 10 lists, and she helped put Solvang on the map. 

“She went to all the trade shows and was instrumental in our efforts to get more tourism opportunities, hosting media and corporate groups coming here,” Farhad said. 

Kath started her career in local tourism as the first director of sales for the Santa Barbara Chamber of Commerce in 1985, then VP of sales and marketing for Vintage Hotels in Santa Barbara. Her background also included hospitality management positions in Palm Springs, Kansas City and Louisville. 

Originally from Michigan, Kath graduated with honors from Michigan State University in 1982 with a business administration degree in hotel-restaurant management and tourism marketing. 

She started Mariah Marketing in 1989, when Farhad worked for the Santa Barbara Conference and Visitors Bureau (now known as Visit Santa Barbara). 

“Laura Kath has been a positive presence in Santa Barbara’s tourism industry for decades, and she will be deeply missed. Laura was beloved for her enthusiasm, respected for her expertise and greatly appreciated for her talents and generosity of spirit. I’m grateful I had the chance to know her and collaborate with her over the years on countless projects and community initiatives. She truly was a hospitality hero for Santa Barbara County,” said Kathy Janega-Dykes, president and CEO of Visit Santa Barbara. 

Kath was the public relations representative for several other local businesses and groups, including Circle V Ranch Camp, St. Vincent de Paul, St. Mark’s-in-the-Valley Episcopal Church, Santa Ynez Inn, Sports Fantasy Tours and Events, Los Olivos Cafe and Wine Merchant, and more. 

“Laura has consistently produced high-quality publicity on every major and many minor events at St. Mark’s, dramatically affecting the success of everything from Cellar and Summer Classics, to concerts, Animal Blessings, Christmas and Easter services, and on, and on. Working with more than 50 media outlets who rely on information from Laura, always clear and accurate, she has told St. Mark’s story across Santa Barbara County and the region. St. Mark’s would not be what it is today without her committed effort and expertise,” said the Rev. Randall Day, pastor of St. Mark’s. 

Since 1983, Kath also served as a volunteer with the Arthritis Foundation; she was diagnosed with arthritis as a child. In 1998, the foundation honored her with the Mary G. Kendall Award for Outstanding Service and in 2005 as a Community Hero. She was a past president of the Santa Barbara Branch and served on its board of directors. She also originated a self-help group for youth and was a Camp Esperanza counselor for kids with arthritis from 1989-94.

“She was a longtime board member and marketing/PR chair for the Arthritis Foundation Central Coast, which is where I met her, and she was one of the most talented professional PR women around. Not a kinder, more loving person in this business. Her work promoting Arthritis Foundation and Solvang was simply outstanding. I am so sad and will miss her so much,” said Bonnie Carroll, local travel and lifestyle publisher and journalist. 

Kath was also a writer, having authored and co-authored several books including travel guides for “Elvis Presley’s Graceland: The Official Guidebook” and “San Ysidro Ranch: A Century of Legendary Hospitality.” She also was the editor for many years of the Solvang and Santa Ynez Valley Visitors Guide.

On the website of her business, Mariah Marketing, Kath ended her biographical information with this remark: “As the lyrics from the Lerner & Lowe song say, ‘Like the wind they call Mariah, (Laura) blows the stars around and sends the clouds a-flying,’ with her positive energy and joyful celebration of life.”

A memorial for Kath has been set for 2 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 29, at St. Mark’s.