Michael Truax, a New York City native who once worked as the private cook for notorious heiress Leona Helmsley, died May 26. He was 62 and had been in declining health. At the time of his death, he kept a "do-not-resuscitate" sign on the door of his Dusty Trails apartment.
Truax was raised in Brooklyn. "He was a city boy, through and through, who happened to love nature and all Alaska had to offer. He would tell me about the magpies and the ravens," said Marjorie Shepatin of New York City, who met Truax at the American Museum of Natural History in the early 1980s.
Their project was processing information about a study of lemurs on the Comoros Islands off Madagascar.
Truax worked for Helmsley at her penthouse atop the city’s Park Lane Hotel and at her palatial home in Rye, N.Y. Shepatin sometimes also worked for the Helmsleys, as Truax’s assistant, before Leona went to jail for tax evasion in 1989.
"Michael knew her quite well. He was in charge of her kitchen. They’d cook out and he’d be in charge. A lot of times it would just be Leona and (husband) Harry," said Shepatin, who said she talked on the phone to Truax about once a week.
Truax cooked at institutions like colleges and corporate dining halls before gravitating to working in private homes in the 1980s. Those jobs took him to locations around the United States, said Shepatin, who followed his progress on the map and saved recipes he sent her.
He lived in Seattle about a decade ago and had worked once or twice at Alaska camps or lodges before moving here on a ferry trip in summer of 2003. He also worked briefly as a cook at Prudhoe Bay, and at places around town, according to Shepatin and Haines friends.
Former neighbor Sarah Jaymot said Truax worked leather and metal, making belts and knives that were displayed at the Haines bank. "He always had a couple cats. He enjoyed animals," Jaymot said.
Philip Lockerman said Truax was well-read, had a broad knowledge of the world and liked classic movies.
But he also could be difficult to get along with, perhaps due to his failing health, Lockerman and others said this week.
Truax was a diabetic who had suffered strokes. "He told me he’d been brought back (from death) before and he didn’t want that to happen again," said apartment manager Gregg Johnson.
"He had what he called a New York sense of humor," said Judd Mullady, who spent time with Truax. "One time a tourist lady was walking a dog and he said, ‘That sure is an ugly dog.’ She got really mad. That’s what he called a sense of humor."
Truax was a fixture on the bench at the post office and others places around town. Mullady said Truax loathed exercise and would bum a ride to go half a block.
Annie Boyce would talk to Truax when she was out gardening and he would go for walks near her Union Street home. "He’d stop and say hello. He saw things but he didn’t say too much."
One day she found a carved, stone donkey in her yard, an apparent gift from Truax, who bought several artworks carved by Mullady, a Haines stone carver. "It was such a kind thing to do. I’m not big for lawn ornaments, but I always find a little place to nestle that thing," Boyce said.
Truax was divorced and had a son, friends said. He was buried at Jones Point Cemetery.