Christian R. Sonne, 82, died peacefully on March 22 of Alzheimer’s and kidney failure, in the same house in Tuxedo Park where he grew up and lived most of his life. His father, Hans Christian Sonne, a Danish immigrant, was sent to New York to represent a British banking concern in the early ‘20’s. His mother was Carol Mulford Sonne, from Montclair, NJ.
Chris graduated as a top student from St. Paul’s School in Concord, NH, and Yale University. He also studied at Columbia University, from which he received a Master of International Affairs and a Certificate from the Russian Institute. He spent a year in Munich, Germany, on a Fulbright Scholarship. His interest in the facts of history knew no bounds. Whatever topic came up, he would be able to tell his listeners something they didn’t know. He also served in the US Army as an artillery officer at Fort Bliss, Texas.
Chris was an investment banker for more than 25 years, specializing in the financing of foreign governments and corporations in the US and Eurodollar capital markets for Harriman Ripley, Merrill Lynch and Goldman Sachs. When he left that world, he took an active role in the Tuxedo Park Association, a partnership owning several thousand acres of land in the Town of Tuxedo. He also assumed the oversight of the family-owned 9,000-acre forest property in South Carolina, and served as co-chairman of Highland Forests, a partnership owning 5,000 acres of forest land in the Adirondacks, where his family built a lakeside cabin, enjoyed by all for many years.
As the Historian of the Town of Tuxedo, and President of the Tuxedo Historical Society, the history of that area in Orange County, NY, became a passion. He was a curator and keeper of the memory of the Town of Tuxedo and Tuxedo Park, one of America’s first planned gated communities, a unique place that in the late years of the 19th century and early years of the 20th century could be called America’s version of Downton Abbey. An offshoot from this interest resulted in a book, Tuxedo Park, The Historic Houses, published in 2007, of which he was co-editor.
In addition, Chris was always generous with his time and talents in several non-profit organizations. He served as a trustee and Chairman of the Board of Berkeley Divinity School at Yale, a trustee of the Episcopal Diocese of New York, a board member of St. Mary’s Center, an AIDS health care center in New York City, Chairman of the Board of the American-Scandinavian Foundation, and one of two trustees of the Vincent Mulford Foundation, which gave support primarily to organizations which work to alleviate homelessness in New York City and Boston. Chris served for many years on the vestry of St. Mary’s-in-Tuxedo Episcopal Church.
He was also generous with his physical self, donating one of his kidneys to his son Peter, in 1995, a true act of fatherly love. That kidney had an excellent run for 23 years. Last year it was traded in for a younger version from Peter’s sister, Edie. Chris’ generosity survived, even after death; his brain was sent to the Taub Institute of Columbia University to be used for scientific research on Alzheimer’s Disease.
Chris married Sally Barnes, the daughter of a newspaper publisher, from Bristol, CT in 1966, and together they lived in New York, Paris, and finally Tuxedo Park. They raised four children; Peter of Cameron, SC; Nicholas of Bedford, NY, Matthew of Bethesda, MD, and Edie of Seattle, WA.
Chris was a keen bird hunter, mainly enjoying the sport at his place in South Carolina. He was an avid hiker, earning the rare distinction of summiting all 113 mountain peaks in New England and New York over 4,000 feet. He was an Adirondack 46’er.
Chris was a good-natured gentleman, fair and decent. He was devoted to and proud of his wife and children and grandchildren. He had no pretenses; he could wear a hard hat and wield a chainsaw or don a black tie and dine with royalty. The irony of his life, and death, is that two of the natural gifts he had been given, a big brain and a well-functioning kidney, both weakened and led to his death. He lived life to the fullest, leaving nothing on the table. He will be greatly missed by his family and community. In addition to his wife, Sally, and four children, he leaves twelve grandchildren and a sister, Sheila Pulling, of NYC, along with many nieces and nephews. Two sisters, Sophia Campbell of Oxford, England, and Carol Ewing of Millbrook, NY, predeceased him. A memorial service will take place at St. Mary’s-in-Tuxedo on Saturday, April 13 at 11 a.m. Donations in his memory may be made to
Episcopal Church, PO Box 637, Tuxedo Park, NY 10987.