Tom Eblen

Dr. Trapp loved to see Lexington having fun

Well, well! Tommy, Tommy! Climb right up in the big brown chair!

When I was little, that's how my annual eye exam always began, with a loud, friendly greeting from Dr. Claude Trapp, all 6-feet-4 of him.

I knew he would put those awful drops in my eyes. But before things went blurry, his dimly lit office was a sight to behold: fine furniture and Asian art everywhere.

Even as a child, I sensed that Dr. Trapp was one of Lexington's great characters. I didn't know the half of it.

Trapp, a longtime Lexington ophthalmologist, died Sunday at 87 after a long illness. When I called his brother, David, it didn't take long for him to begin chuckling at the memories.

"He was a character," Trapp said. "He was a real renaissance person, outgoing and interested in just about anything anybody could mention. And one of his favorite pastimes was giving unusual and riotous parties."

Claude Wilkes Trapp Jr. was born Sept. 13, 1922, to an old and prominent Kentucky family. He was Phi Beta Kappa at the University of the South in Sewanee, Tenn., and graduated from Cornell University Medical College in 1950.

It was at Cornell that he met his wife, Dr. Joan "Jody" Rider Trapp, a Brooklyn, N.Y., native who was a Lexington pediatrician for 45 years before her death in 2007.

Trapp was honored in 1987 with a Brotherhood Award by the National Conference of Christians and Jews. It recognized his 26 years of providing free treatment to poor people through the Lions Clubs of Central Kentucky.

A fixture in Lexington society, Trapp was best known for his non-medical passions: photography, art, astronomy, literature, rare books, classic cars, historic architecture — and fun.

As a Naval officer during World War II, Trapp served on the aircraft carrier USS Saratoga and as an aide to Gen. Chiang Kai-shek, China's pre-communist ruler. While in China, Trapp became fascinated by jade and, over the years, he assembled an impressive collection.

Trapp had more than 50 pieces of carved Jade, some more than 3,500 years old. It was exhibited locally and at museums across the country. As his health declined in recent years, he sold the collection, his brother said.

Trapp and his wife restored a circa 1816 home on Gratz Park next door to Vice Mayor Jim Gray. "He was a great neighbor, an uplifting spirit, a real character," Gray said. "Every time I saw him, he would greet me with, 'Cheers, Cheers!' "

Trapp was involved with Good Shepherd Episcopal Church, the Headley Whitney Museum, the Iroquois Hunt Club, the Lexington Cricket Club, the Lexington Medical Society and the UK Art Museum, among others. His booming voice earned him several appearances as master of ceremonies for the Blue Grass Charity Ball.

The Trapps loved exotic travel. He once leased a helicopter for a year as a gift to his wife so she could go anywhere on short notice.

Trapp's lavish, themed parties were legendary. They included a Roman toga party and a black-tie James Bond 007 affair that filled the then-new Radisson Hotel, now the Lexington Hilton.

His brother remembers when a famous New York restaurant closed for a time and Trapp rented all of its furnishings and had them shipped to Lexington as party props. "The whole thing was unbelievable," he said.

"They knew how to have a good time," said Trapp's nephew, David Trapp II, a Lexington aviation executive. "He did a lot of crazy, cool things. There are not many guys like him left anymore. He was one of a kind."

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