Friday, December 31, 2010

Rest in Peace, Tante Agathe (Agathe von Trapp March 12, 1913 - December 28, 2010)

Tante Agathe died on December 28, 2010. I got an email from my brother George, forwarding the news from Aunt Lynne to all of the family. I was glad to get the notice, because before the end of the day I was getting condolences posts on Facebook from friends who had read about her death in the news. It would have been a bit of a shock that they knew before I did. That’s one interesting thing about being part of a famous family. It’s very likely that the general public hear about what for most is rather personal news before you do. It even made headlines in the local Phoenix paper, The Arizona Republic.

Agathe was 97, second oldest of the original children and closest in age to my father. I wish I had known her better. Most of my life, she lived in Maryland where she ran a preschool with her friend, Mary Lou Kane. I have no childhood recollections, and only knew her to be a quiet, gentle woman who I re-introduced myself to in the maybe 3 times I saw her in the past 20 years. (Hello Tante Agathe. Yes, I’m Francoise, Rupert’s youngest daughter. So nice to see you again!)

She was the family historian. I probably know her best through the family genealogy and autobiographies she wrote late in life. It was from her book that I learned about my father’s childhood with his own mother and grandmother; the places they lived, the games they played; how sweet and gentle and humorous Grandfather really was. I learned about the pageants they would put on, the games they played, and the dog they had that could pull them in a cart. There really was a whole story to it even before Maria came on the scene. My father never really talked about it much, so I’m grateful to Tante Agathe for having penned her memoirs.

Here’s what else I found myself thinking about when I learned of her death. Is it sad when someone dies at 97, or is it a celebration that they lived such a long, full and rich life? People offered condolences and said “I’m sorry to hear about your aunt’s passing.” I wasn’t sure how to respond, because I was thinking how amazing it is that she lived so long. My father died at 80 when I was 27. How cool would it have been if he had also lived to 97?

So I asked my friend Harry, who is 91. He’s my sister-in-law’s father who has become a surrogate father of sorts since I moved to Arizona. He lives in a retirement community, still drives a car, plays golf, has a “lady friend”, goes to the theater, drinks a beer now and again, and is great company. He called yesterday to say he was sorry to hear the sad news. That’s when I realized that for someone who is living the life of Riley at 91, news of a contemporary’s death at 97 is just as much of a shock as it would be for me to find out someone close to my age had died. Harry said it depends on if they were sick and failing or not. It’s sad if someone still had a full life, a blessing if someone was ailing and had no quality of life.

I like to think Tante Agathe is rejoining her loved ones who have gone before her. Rest in Peace, Tante Agathe, and give Papa a hug and kiss for me.

Note: Agathe's  book is available at both Amazon and the Trapp Family Lodge online store. I just went to look for the link to the books on Amazon. The price has jumped from $21.95 for a new book to $167.21 for new, $777.00 for used and $2000 for a collectible edition. This completely blows my mind. At the Trapp Family online store, it’s still available for $13.99.


  1. Hey, you should buy a few copies for your girls before they disappear. I was amazed at her age and at the ages of her surviving siblings. It was in Pro Jo and local and national news here. You have great genes, my dear! Take good care of yourself and you'll have plenty of time to write your story.

  2. That's a great idea. Think I'll order them today. I hope to write it sooner than later, although I'm motivated by deadlines - no pun intended - so it may be much later.

  3. Rev. Tizzy von Trapp WalkerDecember 31, 2010 at 7:18 PM

    Tizzy von Trapp Walker,
    I have a couple of memories of Tante Agathe. I concur with my baby sister, Francoise, that I wish I had known her better. I have one childhood memmory I cherish. I am not sure all the events are correct but it took place during one of our June visits to Stowe. My younger brother Chris was not feeling well the day we were to visit Shelburne Museum so he and I spent the day with Tante Agathe and Mary Lou at their kindergarten in Stowe,while the others continued on with their plans. Chris spent most of the day in one of those old reclining webbed lawn chairs, while I think I enjoyed swimming in one of those old round metal swimming pools. It was a long, long time ago.
    My second memory is much more recent and occured just before her 89th birthday when Tante Agathe accompanied the von Trapp Children as they appeared in Norfolk, Virginia. Toward the end of their concert, their Father, my cousin Stefan von Trapp slowly escorted Tante Agathe on stage. He gently seated her on a bench, handed her her guitar as she shared with the audience: "If someone had told me years ago that I would one day be speaking before an audience I would never have believed it. It was always mother's job,(Maria) to speak to the people." She shared a few more thoughts with those of us sitting in rapt attention, then began strumming her guitar accompanying the children and singing their closing number with them, Stille Nacht. I remember thinking, "I have just seen history in the making." Afterwards as I spoke with her, I told her I was amazed she was still playing her guitar - to which she commented, "Yes, and you know I will be 89 in March!"
    Tante Agathe's passing has touched me far deeper than I would have anticipated. Perhaps because it makes me aware of my own mortality. But then, just yesterday, I was thinking - if I live to be 97 as she did - I still have 40 more years to make a mark in this life!
    Truthfully, I have not remained sad for long as I think of her joining the heavenly chorus.In particular I think of her reunion not only with her siblings and Papa, but with her much beloved Mama.

  4. Bravo Françoise for putting those words about your Tante Agathe. She was an outstanding human being into an admirable discreet and humble costume.
    Christian and Denise

  5. Thank you, Christian and Denise, for your kind words!

  6. I come late with my condolances, but I just heard this sad news.
    My condolances to you Françoise, and to all of your Trapp family.

    I feel very touched but the sweet memory Tizzy shared with us. Probably Tante Agathe loss wasn't that unexpected as Françoise rightly pointed out, as it often happens with seniors - me having very aged relatives as well -. I feel she naturaly came to conclusion of her life. Never having known her personally and being part of the large audience Trapp Family Singers referred to, I naturally felt her as a very discreet and private person, as farest as possible to the purely fictional character of Liesl. However, and only on scort of the scarse 'real' knowledge I can have of your family, your Papa and his sibling did touch my heart with their history, faith and value. This is why I am gonna miss Tante Agathe, although I am sure sh'es already joined her brothers and sisters in the heavenly choir. Not to talk about her beloved mum, as Tizzy rightly pointed out.

  7. Thanks for sharing your thoughts Fabio. It's always nice to hear from those whose hearts the family story has touched.

  8. Wow, I just found this blog. First of all, please accept my belated condolences regarding your aunt.

    Second of all, I have for years been interested in the REAL history of the von Trapps, and I have read The Story of the Trapp family singers and Maria, Her Story, and have corresponded (briefly) with Johannes von Trapp and Elisabeth von Trapp. I had some friends as a teenager whose last name was Trapp. I also "liked," the von Trapp children's (the grandchildren of Werner that are now performing) on facebook. My mom, dad and I had to go to a wedding this past weekend, which was about 3 hours from home. For whatever reason, I brought The Story of the Trapp family singers with me. I asked my parents if I could read a funny passage out loud to them (although my mom has already read the book). It was that passage where Lorli tells the teacher that her father said he would put ground glass in his tea or finish his life on a dung heap before he ever sang that song (the Nazi anthem). I thought that would be the end of it, but my dad asked me to read on. We read several chapters out loud on the way up, a couple there, and 1 1/2 more on the way home. My dad, who always somewhat despised the SOM movie, is really liking the book and finding it fascinating. He's also a peer of the 3 youngest children, having been born in 1936.

  9. THanks for posting my comment. Sorry about that sentence, that said, "I had some friends as a teenager whose last name was Trapp." I realize the sentence makes no sense as it is where it is. The phrases were orignially this: I had some friends as a teenager whose last name was Trapp. I asked them if they were related to the SOM vonTrapps, and they said not that they knew of, and if they did it was distant. I just thought it was good that to know that some people don't claim what they can't. Then i edited that whole thing out but forgot that one sentence.

  10. I am going to order Agathe's book. I've always thought Agathe Whitehead von Trapp's (the first wife and your biological maternal grandmother) part of the story was far too overlooked. She really played an important role (she did bear and raise those first 7 children after all). I'd like to see a book written about her (the wife/mom Agathe), but I'm sure that the daughter Agathe's book will help fill in some gaps.

  11. oops, that would be your biological paternal grandmother ( your dad's mother)

  12. Yes, it should. My grandfather also wrote a book that my cousin Elizabeth Campbell translated. It's titled "To the Last Salute: Memoirs of an Austrian U-Boat Captain". Your father might enjoy it.