Santa Rosa power broker, philanthropist Henry Trione dies at 94
Henry F. Trione, a small-town baker’s son with a Midas touch who amassed a fortune while becoming Sonoma County’s leading postwar power broker, died Thursday morning at the age of 94.
Few could have foreseen the wealth, influence and philanthropy that would follow the young Navy veteran who arrived in Santa Rosa in 1947 and began writing mortgages from a cubbyhole downtown. Trione would parlay that first company into a stake that at one time made him the largest individual stockholder in Wells Fargo, until he was eclipsed by Warren Buffett and Walter Annenberg.
Trione, a shrewd financier who attributed much of his success to good luck and good timing, went on to make successive fortunes that mirrored the evolution of the North Coast with his investments in timber, real estate, banking and wine.
A Catholic, Republican and rugged outdoorsman, Trione left an enduring mark on the landscape as well, most notably in putting together the deal that created Annadel State Park in eastern Santa Rosa. Through donations - often anonymous - and persuasion, he put the touch on others in his circle, deciding which causes warranted support.
“Henry was truly a Renaissance Californian who leaves an immeasurable legacy across Northern California and beyond,” said John Stumpf, chairman and CEO of Wells Fargo. “From his work in the arts and education to his dedication to community service and the environment, Henry always led with his heart.”
Victor Trione of Santa Rosa described his father as “a community icon, elder statesman, consummate benefactor and, on a personal level, devoted father, mentor and best friend.”
“Henry lived his last few months with the same courage, mental toughness and positive spirit that carried him through his previous 94-plus years,” Victor Trione said.
Henry Trione was diagnosed with cancer in late November and declined medical treatment, his family said. He died at his Santa Rosa home.
In an era when the local social and economic establishment was dominated by a small group of businessmen and bankers, Trione was the prince. But his demeanor was unfailingly modest. Despite the polo ponies and world travels that came later, he never forgot growing up as the son of a baker in the Humboldt County town of Fortuna.
His net worth and significant contributions to charity are both difficult to assess, and he was never one to flaunt his achievements. He remained steadfastly tight-lipped when asked to describe the extent of his donations to charitable causes and community projects. “That’s not significant,” he said in a 1998 interview.
A short, stocky man with a patrician nose and penetrating dark eyes, Trione casually dismissed his motivation for giving away chunks of his fortune with a quip: “There are no luggage racks on a hearse.”
Trione also downplayed the business acumen that piled one successful venture upon another. “Wealth comes from the growth of the economy,” he said. “Good times make heroes out of very lucky people.”
His achievements have become part of the backdrop of Sonoma County, none greater than 5,000-acre Annadel State Park, which Trione spent more than $1 million to save from becoming a housing development in the 1970s.
“He’s a totally vibrant human being,” said Caryl Hart, county regional parks director. “An iconic figure who helped make Sonoma County what it is today.”
When the state put Annadel on a park closure list in 2012, Trione quickly put up $100,000 that helped keep it open for a year under county administration, said Hart, a former chairwoman of the state Parks and Recreation Commission. “He completely loved that park,” she said.
Mark Trione said his father’s commitment to preserving Annadel typified his ability “to put his personal interests aside for the sake of the community. He was very forward-thinking.”
Henry Trione was the sole survivor of a small fraternity of civic leaders, including savings and loan executive J. Ralph Stone, bankers Jim Keegan and Charles Reinking and lumber company owner Elie Destruel - men Trione referred to in later years as the “old bulls” - who charted Santa Rosa’s pro-growth postwar course in an era of minimal government restrictions well before the rise of the environmental movement.
They transformed Santa Rosa from a town where ranchers drove cattle through the streets into a regional hub for trade, finance, education and entertainment.
“Some people might say Henry was a major catalyst for the transition,” said Gaye LeBaron, a Press Democrat columnist who shared Trione’s rural Humboldt County roots.