Laura Tuckerman Triest, 100, dies

September 2, 2012

Laura Tuckerman Triest, who was a Washington debutante in 1929 and later worked for the Office of Strategic Services, a World War II spy agency, died Aug. 24 of cardiac arrest at her home in Annapolis. She was 100. Her daughter, Laura Wood, confirmed her death.

Mrs. Triest, who was born in Washington, grew up in an almost-forgotten world of privilege and protocol that brings to mind the Katharine Hepburn-Cary Grant films “Holiday” and “The Philadelphia Story.”

Her father, Walter R. Tuckerman, was a prominent developer for whom several streets in the Washington area are named. He was a founder of the private Burning Tree golf club in Bethesda.

Laura Wolcott Tuckerman was born Oct. 11, 1911, in a family mansion on Massachusetts Avenue NW and attended the National Cathedral School and a school in Switzerland. She was a graduate of Oldfields School, a private academy for girls in Baltimore County.

When she made her “society debut” as an 18-year-old at a debutante ball at the Willard Hotel, she received wide coverage in the press. For years, her frequent travels to Europe, Canada, California, Florida and a summer retreat at Southampton, N.Y., were chronicled by society writers.

She was the eldest of five Tuckerman daughters who grew up at the family’s estate, Tuxeden — pronounced “Tuck’s Eden” — on Edgemoor Lane in Bethesda. The Tuckerman home “has long been a favorite gathering place for the younger members of Washington’s smart set,” a 1935 article in The Washington Post said.

“There are always young people dropping into the house,” the article continued. The Tuckermans “give charming parties for their daughters, and nearly always there are several friends visiting them from out of town.”

During the Depression, when her family had lost a good deal of its fortune, Mrs. Triest worked at a dress shop for “$5 for a six-day work week,” her daughter said.

In 1942, Mrs. Triest began working for Col. William J. “Wild Bill” Donovan, the director of an agency that became the OSS. One of her first duties was to track down accurate, up-to-date maps of strategically important parts of the world.

She was later stationed in Cairo, where she worked as a telegraph officer, and then Italy and Austria. After the war, Mrs. Triest transferred to the State Department and was part of an official mission to observe elections in Greece. She also took a solo trip through South America for several months in 1946.

From 1949 to 1953, she worked for the Central Intelligence Agency during its infancy.

Shortly after her 40th birthday in 1951, she married Willard Gustav Triest, an engineer and designer who was helping build a bridge over the Severn River. They settled in Annapolis, where Mrs. Triest lived the rest of her life.

Mrs. Triest was a member of the Chevy Chase Club, the Sulgrave Club and the Annapolis Yacht Club and was on the founding board of the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra. She and her husband often sailed on the Chesapeake Bay and elsewhere around the world.

Her husband died in 1989. Survivors include a daughter, Laura Wolcott Triest Wood of Annapolis; a sister, Alice Tuckerman Williams of Sykesville, Md.; three grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.

During World War II, one of Mrs. Triest’s friends in the OSS was Julia McWilliams, better known by her married name of Julia Child.

According to Wood, “My mother knew her before she lived in France and learned how to cook.”

Matt Schudel has been an obituary writer at The Washington Post since 2004.