In Memoriam: Deborah L. Natansohn

Just three weeks ago, I interviewed Debbie Natansohn, Seabourn Cruise Line's president and chief operating officer, for a Q&A article that appeared October 23. Debbie speckled our conversation with laughter and fun, amid the professional demeanor on both sides. Yes, we talked about ships and onboard services, but we also chuckled about handbags.  The late Debbie Natansohn, a well-known figure in the travel industry

I smiled for the rest of the day, reflecting upon Debbie's down-to-earth manner. She certainly did her job well, yet she also savored life's personal moments. Sadly, Debbie, 53, suffered a serious heart attack on October 22 and died at HolyCrossHospital in Fort Lauderdale on October 24. For most of us in the travel industry, it was a tragic, gut-wrenching blow.

"Debbie was one of our industry's true stars, and she left such a positive mark on all she touched," stressed Virtuoso's CEO Matthew Upchurch. "She was a champion of innovation and dedicated to excellence. I will truly miss her, and I know all our members and staff join me in expressing the void we will feel without her."

Similarly, Rick Meadows, senior vice president of marketing and sales, Holland America Line, said: "She had an incredible sense from the marketing perspective of what was the right thing to do, something that so many people in the business [don't have]. She was passionate about her career and her chosen industry, and she believed every day that she was making a difference."

Former CLIA Chairman Mark Conroy, president of Regent Seven Seas Cruises, called Debbie "a great human being." Conroy raved about Debbie's willingness to share her industry knowledge with CLIA and the agency community. He also praised her for her role in CLIA's 2003 management transition, when Terry Dale became president and CEO. "She was one of the brightest and most intelligent people in the travel industry, and will be missed by all," said Conroy.

Only a few days before her hospitalization, Debbie ended the week on a high note, announcing that Sea-bourn–currently operating three mega-yachts–had ordered two new 32,000-ton, $250 million ships. "She figured out how to make money with [Sea-bourn's] ships, and was the first person to do so," remarked Conroy.

A former travel journalist, Debbie was appointed president of Seabourn Cruise Line in July 2004, after a stint as senior vice president of sales and marketing at Cunard Line, where she launched the Queen Mary 2. I fondly remember Debbie at the the fairy tale-like 2004 christening of QM2 by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II at Southampton, England. Debbie and our gaggle of female journalists giggled and swooned over our new ladies hats to be worn for the christening–signaling our certain arrival into British society's upper crust.

Debbie believed her legacy to the cruise industry would be QM2, because that ocean liner was built to sail for decades. So in 40 years—when we were all old and gray—it would still be plying the world's oceans. But she had other achievements. In 1998, she became the first female cruise line president in the United States at Orient Lines.

After the 2001 christening of Orient Lines' Crown Odyssey in Istanbul, Turkey, our press group was invited by Debbie for relaxation and lunch at a Mykonos villa. I recall seeing her on the villa's deck, her feet propped up, her face in the sun, her mind just savoring the moment. Debbie truly had a rare gift. She knew how to work, but she also knew how to live.