Deborah L. Natansohn, president and chief operating officer for Seabourn Cruise Line -- and one of the most influential and inspirational women in the cruise industry -- died today. Natansohn, 53, suffered a heart attack on Sunday.
Natansohn, the only female president of a North American cruise line, has served atop Seabourn since 2004, helming the company at a time of an evolution that was topped only last week by signing of a letter of intent to build two new cruise ships. Previously, she was senior marketing officer at Cunard Line, where she led the introduction of the storied Queen Mary 2. Prior to that she was president of Orient Lines and Pearl Cruises; the former was acquired by Norwegian Cruise Line during her tenure.
Natansohn is a native of New York. She was part of a number of organizations, including The Commonwealth Institute -- a South Florida peer counseling group for executive women. As well, she was a member of the International Women's Forum and a participant in the Miami Dade School District's Executive PASS program, matching local CEO's with public school principals to inspire change.
All that is, of course, the resume (and only part of it!). What's not on the resume is the impact that Natansohn has had on so many people she's met, and worked and socialized with over the years, passengers, media and executives alike.
"There's a room onboard Queen Mary 2 that defines her," remembers Art Sbarsky, a one-time NCL executive-turned-cruise writer. "The Veuve Cliquot Champagne lounge was her idea -- it's her favorite Champagne."
If there's a memory that defines her for friends and acquaintences, it's her effort to buy a hat. You see, she was meant to meet the Queen (the real one, not the ship) and was a bit -- intimidated. "Debbie is not a fashion plate," Sbarsky notes. "She's not enormously caught up in fashion and shoes. But she used to tell us how hard it was to buy the right hat for the event. And ultimately one of her greatest moments in the whole building process of Queen Mary 2 was when she met the Queen. She was just awestruck."
Other memories have filtered in. Says Fran Golden, travel editor of the Boston Herald, "she was so young and vibrant and the thing about Deb is that her success is almost intimidating. She's the executive of a cruise line -- here's a woman my age who started out as a writer but had a knack for business which is unusual for a writer -- and yet she found this great place in an industry she really believed in and really loved."
For all her achievements, Golden remembers, "she had a big personality that was almost maternal. She took an interest, whether in a project or in the industry itself, as if it were her baby."
"She was one of the nicest, classiest people I have been fortunate to know," Sbarsky told Cruise Critic today, just as he was, coincidentally, boarding Queen Mary 2 for an Atlantic crossing. "She's extremely smart. I wouldn't," he adds after a moment of thought, "want to play against her in Scrabble."
"The Jewish word for Debbie," Golden says, "is mensch."
Natansohn passed away at Holy Cross Hospital in Ft. Lauderdale, with her family at her side.
Add your sentiments to our thread of condolences on the Seabourn Forum.
--by Carolyn Spencer Brown, Editor
Seabourn's Deborah Natansohn Suffers Fatal Heart Attack
October 24, 2006