In Remembrance: John H. Trattner ’52 Died on October 6 2017

John H. Trattner, by turns a journalist, author, teacher, composer, naval officer, nonprofit leader, and career US diplomat, who drew global focus as press spokesman for Secretary of State Edmund S. Muskie during the 1979–81 hostage crisis with Iran, died October 6, 2017, in Rockville, Maryland. He was 86.

During his post-government career, Trattner wrote the widely read Prune Book series, whose seven volumes described hundreds of senior, presidentially appointed, federal government positions. Produced during his 17 years with the nonprofit Council for Excellence in Government, the series drew substantial media coverage in presidential election years from 1988 to 2004. The books found a broad audience among political appointees, senior federal career staff, government and academic institutions, and journalists. Trattner appeared regularly in broadcast media discussions, published op-ed articles in national and international newspapers, and spoke to business, editorial, and student audiences around the country. He taught for a year at the School of Communication at American University, specializing in government-media relationships.

With unusually heavy international attention on the fate of dozens of Americans held captive in Iran, the White House in the election year of 1980 increasingly chose to refer the constant barrage of sensitive media questions about it to the state department. As department spokesman, Trattner was essentially the only official American source of daily information and comment through the final fraught months of efforts to free the 52 American embassy personnel and other citizens seized by student activists in the early days of the Iranian revolution. This made his a familiar face on television news programs around the world.

Before serving as state department spokesman, Trattner spent two years as a special assistant and then executive assistant to then Deputy Secretary of State Warren Christopher. For Christopher and his staff, Iran’s 444-day detention of the Americans meant an increasingly central role in the crisis, culminating in his negotiation of a settlement that freed the hostages in January 1981.

Among other diplomatic posts over 20 years, Trattner was press attaché at the American embassies in Warsaw and Paris, and deputy public affairs officer at the US Mission to NATO. Between 1971 and 1980, the White House frequently borrowed his services as a spokesman during the summit meetings and global travels of Presidents Nixon, Ford, and Carter. In 1983–85, he served as press secretary to former US senator George J. Mitchell.

In his early career, Trattner was for six years a newspaper and wire service reporter in the United States and a freelance news magazine and network radio correspondent in Europe. Events he covered in Geneva, 1959–61, included long-run nuclear test ban and arms control negotiations, the diplomatic talks that produced an independent Algeria, and conferences on world economic issues and the civil war in Laos.

He was a longtime member of the Public Diplomacy Council, serving on its board as well as that of Leadership Forum International, another nonprofit supporting quality leadership in transitional post–Cold War economies. He wrote free-lance for several additional nonprofit organizations, including Earth Day Network, the Washington Scholarship Fund, and the Inter-American Dialogue. A part-time composer, he wrote the words and music of songs for mixed chorus, with performances in the US and Canada. He sang for many years with the Yale Alumni Chorus of Washington.

Born in Richmond, Virginia, Trattner attended public schools there and earned a BA at Yale University in 1952, where he majored in music composition, sang in the Glee Club under Fenno Heath, and arranged for the Spizzwinks. He served on active duty as a US naval officer, 1953–56, and pursued graduate music study at Columbia University and Yale where, in 1957, he won the Frances Kellogg prize for contrapuntal composition. In 1973, he received the Superior Honor Award of the US Information Agency.

He leaves his wife of 63 years, Gillian B. Trattner of Chevy Chase, Maryland; three daughters—Alison D. Trattner (Class of ’82) of Amman, Jordan; Sydney Trattner of New York City; and Hilary B. Trattner-Steinmetz of Paris, France—and three grandchildren: Anouk Bringer, Laszlo Bringer, and Kiera Steinmetz.

—Submitted by the family.

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