Anton “Ton” Vonk
November 19, 1940 – December 30, 2011
On Christmas day, while Ton and his wife Diane Boss were vacationing in Mexico, Ton had a heart attack, fell, hit his head and died five days later of a brain hemorrhage. While he was in a coma, his beloved daughters Marjolein and Brigitte were able to come from Europe to be with him before he passed.
Ton was a Dutchman, born in Rotterdam, The Netherlands, during World War II. The Germans had bombarded Rotterdam the previous May and Ton came into the world in a city of rubble, deprivation and fear. Toward the end of the war, British pilots bravely dropped food parcels to this starving nation and Ton could always remember the taste of those precious rations.
Ton’s father was a baker as were his uncles and Ton delivered bread on his bicycle all during his youth. But he dreamed of being a pilot. He wrote to Boeing and they sent him posters of airplanes. When he graduated from high school, military service was still mandatory in Holland and Ton applied to the air force. However, his eyesight prevented him from being accepted for pilot training so he served in the Dutch Army for five years where he also was able to pursue higher education and become an officer.
Following this service, he got a job as a department store manager briefly but eventually joined a small oil trading and shipping company, Vitol. Ton spent the majority of his career with that company which became one of the world’s largest independent energy trading companies under his leadership. He served as its President and Chairman before retiring in 1997. The Vitol website commemorated Ton thusly:
“Ton was one of the key driving forces in the creation of Vitol. He joined Vitol in 1967, was a President of the Vitol Group from 1991 to 1995 and was very much at the heart of Vitol’s development into a global international trader in the 1970s, 80 and 90’s. Always a challenging and dynamic leader, his success never changed him and he remained a man with unassuming modesty and helped mould the culture of Vitol that the current management has always endeavoured to maintain. He will be greatly missed by everyone at Vitol.”
During most of this time, he lived in London, England where Vitol was headquartered with his second wife, Diane. His cherished dream of being a pilot was happily realized when they both took flying lessons and eventually earned their licenses and went on to become instrument-rated and to fly their own jet.
On one of their trips to the U.S., they discovered Santa Barbara and kept returning, eventually deciding to spend time both here and in Europe. Ton enrolled at UCSB and earned a master’s degree in political science, focusing on international political economy. He later endowed the Vonk Chair in Environmental Politics in the UCSB Department of Political Science.
During his time in Santa Barbara, Ton supported the Community Environmental Council, the Camerata Pacifica and many other local organizations. He also made many dear friends and loved walking the beaches and hiking the hills.
His daughter Marjolein has a master’s degree in journalism and has worked in commercial property development. She and her husband Alain Losekoot have two children, Julian, 10 and Faye, 7. His other daughter, Brigitte is a captain with the Dutch national airline KLM, carrying on her father’s love of aviation. She is also a horseback riding champion. She is married to another KLM captain, Pascal Willems.
There was a memorial for Ton in the Netherlands in January and another one in Santa Barbara in February, both of which celebrated Ton’s life, his character and his legacies with scores of family, friends and colleagues.