Former Safeco CEO Roland Trafton Dead at 85

January 24, 2005

Roland Milton “Milt” Trafton, former chief executive of Seattle-based Safeco Corp. and a leading local arts benefactor, mountain climber, Arabian horse enthusiast and corporate art collector, is dead at 85.

Trafton, who assembled a nationally recognized art collection in 33 as head of the locally based insurance company, died Jan. 22 after being hospitalized with worsening complications from pneumonia, friends and relatives said.

The winner of a New Year’s baby contest, Trafton was born in Venice, Calif., and moved with his parents to Washington state at a young age. One early influence was the paintings of his mother, Lola Trafton, who became a well-regarded Pacific Northwest artist.

Trafton worked as a truck driver while attending Skagit Valley Junior College, now Skagit Valley College, served in the Army Air Corps during World War II, then earned a law degree at the University of Washington. His second job after graduation was with General Insurance Co. of America

In 1953, the year he became chief executive, a subsidiary was established as Selective Auto and Fire Insurance Company of America, later shortened to Safeco, the name adopted for the parent company in 1968.

As the company’s fourth CEO, Trafton presided over substantial growth and maintained a rigid corporate dress code—white shirts, ties and suits for men, suits or pantsuits with matching pieces for women—that was loosened to allow more color only 10 years after he stepped down.

In the last year and a half before he was succeeded in January 1986 by protege Bruce Maines, Trafton led a successful defense against a takeover bid by Lincoln National Corp. of Fort Wayne, Ind., as Safeco’s stock price rose from about $30 to $46 a share.

Trafton began climbing mountains in the early 1960s, eventually scaling the seven major peaks of the Cascade Range and reaching summits in the Alps and in Mexico.

Also in the 1960s, Trafton was among the founders and later served as chairman of ArtsFund, then known as Corporate Council for the Arts, which seeks to foster budget stability for nonprofit arts groups. He also was a founder and chairman of the Fifth Avenue Theater, the city’s leading venue for traveling Broadway musicals.

“He took on the leadership of the arts stabilization movement here 20 years ago and brought in $5 million of local money and $2.5 million from the National Arts Stabilization Fund,” ArtsFund President Peter Donnelly said. “Milt wooed that money here.”

Survivors include Trafton’s wife of 62 years, Rose Marie; sons Roger of Bothell, Stephen of Whidbey Island, David of Monroe, Byron of Rockport, Md., and Dwight of Stafford, Va., and seven grandchildren. A private family memorial service is scheduled Jan. 25.

Copyright 2004 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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