Since I always seem to share with you what goes on in my life, I am sharing with you now sad family news for us. My ex-husband, John Traina, father of eight of my nine children, passed away suddenly on February 1st, and it is a huge shock and grief to all of us, and most especially our children. We were married for 17 years, and have been separated and divorced for 16 years. But in spite of that, we remained good friends, and very close because of the children, and probably also just because we liked each other. He was a remarkably kind, patient, easy going man, had the perfect personality to be the father of so many children. He was totally unflappable, nothing ever bothered him, and I can hardly ever remember seeing him angry. We would leave for the weekends with 9 kids, a mountain of suitcases, three young women to help us, 8 dogs, a pet pig (who was supposed never to grow bigger than 30 pounds and weighed 200 and was a most uncharming pet named Coco!!!), musical instruments, the kids’ friends, a dozen backpacks full of homework, and John never batted an eye, or complained about the noise or chaos. He came up with a creation which was sheer genius and before its time of computers, video machines and modern viewing devices. He installed a TV in our van to watch video tapes, so the kids could watch a movie on the way to our house in Napa, which avoided the refrain of “Are we there yet?”. He was a truly lovely person, in many many ways. A handsome, elegant man, impeccably groomed, with a radiant smile. He was movie star handsome when I met him, and until his very last day. The world, and surely our world, will be a sadder place without him.
I met John at a “Gone with the Wind” costume party given by friends at their country home. He was married then, and his wife was wearing a beautiful gown which had actually been a costume worn by Vivien Leigh as Scarlet O’Hara in the movie. John was wearing a Union Officer’s uniform and looked incredibly dashing. Late as usual, I ran across the lawn to the party, not looking where I was going, and crashed into the chest of a man in uniform. I looked up and there was John, dazzlingly handsome. I’m sure he never remembered me from that day, although I glimpsed him and his lovely wife at the party. And for a long time after, I wished I could meet a man ‘like him’. It never dawned on me that I would be lucky enough to be in his life one day. Eventually, he and his wife became my friends, and invited me to some dinner parties, with my assorted not very exciting boyfriends at the time. John and his wife looked like movie stars to me, and led a golden, elegant life. They seemed like role models of people who had it all, and I enjoyed their company a great deal. I always admired the fact too that John never flirted with me, nor showed any interest in me (not always the case with married men). John was Married, with a capital M, and seemed to be a great husband. A few years later, as I mushed along in my own life, he and his wife separated and divorced. And he called me and invited me out. She was marrying someone else, John was alone and I was amazed that he invited me out. He was nearly 20 years older than I, although he didn’t look it, and I thought he was much too glamorous for me—I had a kind of “Who? Me?” feeling about it—he was asking me out??? Me??? How could that be? I never felt so lucky in my life.
We fell in love with each other very quickly. Our first date was lunch on New Year’s Day. And it was a whirlwind romance. He proposed to me on Valentine’s Day (which was pretty funny, we both had other dates for that night, which we decided to honor, so as not to disappoint anyone, but we let our respective dates know that we had just gotten engaged). And we were married in June. John had two adorable very young sons, Trevor and Todd, who were friends of my daughter’s and I knew well. I had my daughter Beatrix, and my son Nick was a baby (whom John adopted once we were married). And everyone loved everyone. It was a love fest. And John was truly the handsomest man I have ever known, and was until the day he died, and a kind one. He made everyone feel special, and I felt like a fairy princess, Cinderella, when I was with him. One of the things I loved about him was that he wanted more children, and so did I. We had five more together, Samantha, Victoria, Vanessa, Maxx, and Zara. We filled our house with love and light, music and laughter, and a lot of kids!!! And we shared 17 wonderful years.
As happens sometimes in life, dreams fade, reality gets the best of us, things happen, people disappoint each other, or tragedies occur. My son Nick was desperately sick for our entire marriage, which was a challenge, my career was demanding, I’m more of a homebody, John loved going out and having a huge social life, which I didn’t always have the energy for with nine kids at home, one of them very ill, and constant deadlines. We were at different points in our lives, he in the final stretch, the fun part, he retired early and had more time to play than I did. And I tend to be a more serious person, and was happy at home with the kids, or working. And after 17 years, with great sadness, we parted ways, but we remained very close. Even after our divorce, my house was always open to him; we spent wonderful times together with the kids. He spent every holiday with us, came to dinner often, we took real pleasure in seeing each other, with and without the kids. And our Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays were legendary among people who knew us, because in an effort not to pull the kids in different directions, not only did John spend the holidays with us, but so did his first wife, her new husband before he died, and her mother, who is like a grandmother to my children, and a cherished member of our family, she is 93 now and going strong.
John was a man of a thousand interests, always fascinated by a variety of topics. He loved classic cars, beautiful antiques, had an incredible wardrobe and was the best dressed man I know. He was impeccable, perfect, beautiful, and he had a knack for spreading beauty around him. He thoroughly enjoyed his kids, his friends, his homes, his travels, new adventures, exotic places (where I would have been terrified to go). He loved his dogs. He was full of life and added excitement and glamour wherever he went. And he always looked 20 or 30 years younger than he was, time just didn’t touch him, somewhere on his travels, he must have found the fountain of youth!!!
He’d had some heart problems in recent years, but managed them responsibly, and continued living a great life. He was planning to have a minor procedure right before Thanksgiving, or right after, and in the blood work, they discovered something amiss, and ran some tests. The tests came back on December 15th, he had acute leukemia, but even then, he was cheerful and optimistic, which was so characteristic of him. And we know several people who have lived years with leukemia, and have done well. We shared Christmas with him, afterwards he went to Mexico with friends, and in mid January, he was to have chemo, to deal with the leukemia. And even then, he looked handsome and debonair and tolerated it well. And then suddenly, the house of cards came down, he had 3 rapid heart attacks toward the end of chemo, but even then he and we were convinced he’d be fine. He assured us he would be!! And we believed it too. Thinking he was alright, and he certainly looked it, and was very positive, I left on a trip, and we chatted twice on Skype, several times on the phone, and often on email. He sounded good. The first time we skyped he looked great, the second time less so. The morning that he died, he had breakfast with some of the children, and dressed carefully for a visit to the hospital to make sure that he was alright. He had moved back into my house during chemo, so he would be more comfortable and could be near to our children. And off he went to the hospital that morning, after breakfast, and they rushed him into surgery for his heart. Much to everyone’s horror, he didn’t survive the operation, and at 5 o’clock that afternoon, he died. All of our children were with him, and sadly I was in Paris, but spoke to him the night before, when he still assured me he was fine. John did everything decisively and quickly, just as he proposed to me 6 weeks after we started dating—-6 weeks after the diagnosis, he was gone. He left quickly and elegantly, leaving our entire family to mourn him, bereft to have lost such a lovely man. Everyone is shocked, and all of us are stunned and saddened, but I also realize that this is probably the way he would want to go, quickly, simply, still looking handsome and feeling well until almost the last minute. He would have hated to be diminished, old and sick. He was nearly 80, and looked barely sixty (I will enclose his obituary here, and the photo attached is not an old one, it is from only last year. What 78 year old man do you know who looks like that? And aside from the good looks, he exudes vitality and life). The greatest sadness, other than losing him, is that our children are still very young, in their early 20’s, much too young to lose a parent, and a man like John is a lot to lose, as a parent, loved one, or friend. His loss will be felt by all for a long, long time. And it says a lot about a man to be mourned by many children and two wives. We all loved him deeply.
John Traina wasn’t a sad person, he was a happy man. He led a good life. When he saw one of our daughters crying at the hospital recently, he allowed her 6 seconds to cry and then she had to stop. John was all about living life, without regrets, without tears, without fears. He lived it fully and he had fun, and everyone around him had fun too. He wouldn’t like to see us crying, or sad. We held a private funeral a week ago and a memorial the following week for his many friends. And then there was a big reception at my home, with music and laughter and people, which is exactly what John wanted. John was all about celebrating life. So we will have to go on, keep our chins up, remember him with loving smiles……and having had him in our lives, he blessed us all. His exit was as elegant as he was…..he danced on, leaving us with all the happy memories of the wonderful times we shared. What an extraordinary man he was, and how lucky we were to know and love him.
John A. Traina, Jr.
26 September 1931 – 1 February 2011
John A. Traina, Jr. (26 September 1931 – 1 February 2011) passed away last Tuesday in San Francisco. Beloved father and grandfather, notable society figure, entrepreneur, civic leader and San Francisco legend, John Traina attended Grant School, Lowell High School, graduated from Stanford University ’53, and served in the U.S. Army in the Pacific. He enjoyed a long and respected career in shipping (American President Lines, Grace Lines, Prudential Lines, Delta Lines) and was among the first to start cruises into China. Traina engaged in numerous pursuits, with vineyards in the Napa Valley, was the author of two books (“Extraordinary Jewels” and “The Fabergé Case”), was a world traveler and famous collector of important objects. He had the largest collection of Fabergé cigarette boxes exhibited in museums around the world. Interested in everything, engaged in many endeavors, beloved by all, Traina had a passion for exotic travel, lived in Washington, D.C. in the 1960’s, and loved his homes in San Francisco and the Napa Valley. He was extremely elegant, known for his impeccable style and limitless charm, he added glamour and sophistication to the San Francisco social scene for his entire life. He is survived by three sons, Trevor, Todd and Maxx, and four daughters, Samantha, Victoria, Vanessa, and Zara, and was the father of the late Nick Traina. He was the stepfather of Beatrix Lazard Seidenberg. And he was the grandfather of Johnny and Delphina Traina, Daisy Traina, and Sebastian and Isabel Seidenberg. He is also survived by two ex-wives Diane “Dede” Buchanan Wilsey, and Danielle Steel. He was married to each for 17 years. He is also survived by a sister, Marisa Traina Hahn, three nephews and a niece. Funeral services will be held privately. A memorial service will be held at The Maritime Museum, 900 Beach Street, San Francisco, 94109, on Friday, 11 February, at 2:00pm. The family requests that memorials be contributions to the California Historical Society, 678 Mission Street, San Francisco, 94105, or The Nick Traina Foundation, P.O. Box 470427, San Francisco, 94147.