Cynthia  Rees

Obituary of Cynthia Rees

Cynthia Rees, a champion of underserved children, passed away on December 4, 2022 with Burt, her husband of sixty years, by her side. In her 82 years, Cynthia built a legacy of dedication, philanthropy and friendship that speaks to a steadfast character. Cynthia dedicated her energies to improving the lives of others, most notably as a part of the founding class of advocates for CASA of Santa Cruz, a local non-profit whose volunteers work to protect local children victimized by abuse, neglect or abandonment.


“When the kids needed help Cynthia was always the first person to put up her hand, “ said Lynne Petrovic, executive director of CASA. “For thirty years she jumped in willingly to give these kids a better life, from founding the Circle of Friends to stuffing hundreds of envelopes and writing thank you notes. Cynthia believed to her core that taking care of children is both a duty and a privilege, she always led with her heart.”


In addition to serving as an advocate, Cynthia founded the Friends of CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) in 1992 to raise much-needed funding for the organization and served on their board faithfully for thirty years.  The Family Service Association of the Central Coast recognized her as both donor and volunteer at the Daisy for a similar thirty year stint. Her remarkable record of community service also includes advocacy and support of Women’s Educational Success (WES) at Cabrillo College, and the Cabrillo College Foundation.


Cynthia was born in San Francisco on August 10, 1940 to Everett and Barbara Graham Cottrell. Her father was a timber and cattle rancher who worked land bought in 1865 by Barbara’s Scottish grandfather, Hugh McClellan. All the way through the eighth grade, Cynthia walked down the road from the family ranch to school. The one-room Buck Mountain School stood on land that had been donated by her father, who felt it was important to make school accessible to the children of seasonal mill workers in Humboldt County. His belief in the value of education, and the sense that all children deserve the opportunity to learn, had an impact on Cynthia, who enjoyed tutoring younger students.


Denied admission to Stanford University, Cynthia went to the University of California, Berkeley, where she majored in child development and met another disappointed Stanford hopeful in her classmate, Burton Rees. The two were married on June 30, 1962 and honeymooned at Yosemite’s iconic Glacier Point Hotel, which burned to the ground seven years later. By that time, Burt and Cynthia had moved to Santa Cruz and started a family.


In addition to raising their two children, Cynthia taught at Bay View Elementary from 1983 to 2001, partnering with dear friend Sharon Bedell, who also teamed up with Cynthia for thirty years of round robin bridge, raising money for the Visiting Nurse’s Association. In the early eighties, she and Kay Zwerling founded Thursday’s Child Auxiliary, a non-profit preschool for autistic children, which closed after three years due to lack of funding. Her next non-profit commitment, and the organization she was most proud to have been a part of, was CASA of Santa Cruz. Cynthia Rees was in the founding class of advocates for the Santa Cruz chapter with Dale Johnson, June Smith, and Anne Wyant. Remarking on the organization’s 25th anniversary, Cynthia and Anne, both educators, said CASA was, “a wonderful opportunity to continue to serve children.”


Over the years Burt and Cynthia traveled extensively, visiting dozens of countries, including tours with the Nature Conservancy, the History Forum and UC Berkeley. It was on one of the Cal trips that they had the opportunity to trace the Route of the Celts, from the Scottish Inner Hebrides to the beaches of Normandy, with David Eisenhower, grandson of Ike, as their insightful tour guide. An avid tennis player for forty years, Cynthia supported the athletic endeavors of her children as well, driving to twice a day 5:30AM and evening practices, to swim meets, water polo games and fundraisers for the Santa Cruz Aquatic Team.


Cynthia Rees leaves behind a legacy of unwavering support for the organizations and people she believed in. From establishing a local chapter and financial support for CASA, to working for access to education at every level, she was a steadfast contributor. Her children and grandchildren knew her as a tireless champion, cheering from the side of the pool, the other end of the phone and across the table at their annual Slanted Door dinners. Lucky was the friend or neighbor on the receiving end of her carefully organized distribution of Burt’s summer tomatoes and produce. She improved the lives of so very many people, and will be dearly remembered. 


Cynthia is survived by her husband of sixty years, Burton Rees, their son, Robert Rees of Walnut Creek, daughter, Kimberly Van Anda of Reno, and grandchildren Kalle and Wyatt Bailey and Evan Hyun Kyu Rees. She is preceded in death by her parents, a brother, Graham Cottrell, and a sister, Carolyn Cottrell Willits. She is also survived by sisters-in-law, Gloria Cottrell and Melody Clarkson; and nieces Leslie Moore, Brook Hubner and Karen Clarkson, and nephews Scott and Brent Willits.


A Memorial Celebration will be held on March 11, 2023 at 1:00pm at Chaminade Resort in Santa Cruz; please visit Benito & Azzaro Pacific Gardens Chapel website for further information.

In lieu of flowers, the family welcomes contributions to The Cottrell Family Memorial Scholarship Fund Humboldt Area Foundation, 363 Indianola Rd, Bayside, CA 95524 or online at

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Celebration Of Life

1:00 pm - 3:00 pm
Saturday, March 11, 2023
Chaminade Resort
1 Chaminade Lane
Santa Cruz, California, United States
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