It was one of those odd moments of traveling. It was last Wednesday, about 4:45 p.m. and I had just purchased The Miami Herald at a newsstand at Miami International Airport. I was between flights, having flown in from Grand Bahama Island where the Caribbean Tourism Conference had just wrapped up, and I was killing time before my flight home to J.F.K.
The truth is, I was doing more than killing time; I wanted to read what The Miami Herald had to say about the tragic death of Deborah Natansohn, president and COO of Seabourn Cruise Line. She had just passed away the day before, following a heart attack she'd suffered that Sunday. I had already begun writing this column, focusing on the untimely passing of this industry leader, however, the more I tried to write, the more I realized I wanted more facts about her. My thinking was that the Herald would have a decent write up about the president of one of its hometown corporations.
Before I had time to even glance down at the paper, a
familiar person whisked by me. It was Donna Flora, who had just flown in from
Donna, who heads up American Express' travel industry relations, had literally just landed and was in town to attend Natansohn's funeral, which was to be held the next day. As we stood there in the long corridor of Miami International, Donna told me what a loss Deborah's sudden death was to so many, including herself.
First Female President of a Cruise Line
"Deborah was a true role model to so many women," Donna said, the tears welling up in her eyes. "She was the first woman president of a cruise line. She was very quiet, and she wasn't flashy. But think back on every single industry event you've been to, Deborah was at all of them. She was dedicated to this industry and she was a true champion to travel agents, or else she wouldn't have been there."
Donna recalled poignantly that Natansohn simply loved life. "She lived for her family, for her nieces and nephews."
"When I spent five days in
And so, through sheer fate and a chance meeting, I had my story from Donna Flora, who, as many of you already know, is in her own right a beloved travel industry icon, fighting tirelessly for travel agents and for the betterment of the entire industry. I felt very fortunate to have had Donna put Deborah's passing in such heartfelt perspective, letting me know more about this woman who has left us all too soon.
The next morning, I got an email from Mary Jean Tully,
chairman and CEO of The Cruise Professionals, who told me she was flying to
Her Impact and Example Live On
"Deborah was smart, funny and totally unpretentious," Mary Jean told me. "She had a warmth about her that made her real. When my cover story came out in (the October 2006 issue of) Luxury Travel Advisor magazine, she was the first person in the industry to offer me congratulations and to tell me how proud she was of me. She said owning a business and being in a man's world is tough and we had both pulled through."
By the way, The Miami Herald did have an excellent
piece on Natansohn, citing her as a passionate leader and a strong champion for
women in corporate
There is more to be told. For more on Deborah Natansohn, where Susan Young, one of our top contributing editors, recounts her own memories of this top industry executive, whom she interviewed just days before her passing.
Ruthanne Terrero, CTC EDITORIAL DIRECTOR