The Life of Sophia Travis

Sophia Travis

Sophia, Finn, and Gregory Travis in Spring 2012. Sophia was a classically trained musician and often played an art deco accordion that belonged to her grandfather. Photo by Steve Raymer

Sophia Grace (Mackie) Travis
October 4, 1965 – September 19, 2012

Sophia Travis was born on October 4, 1965 in Omaha, Nebraska to William and Okja Mackie. She was a devoted mother, wife, daughter, friend, artist, musician, and public servant. She lived throughout the world and chose Bloomington to call her beloved home. She is survived by her parents William and Okja Mackie of Sterling, VA, her husband Gregory Travis and son Finnegan Travis of Bloomington, her mother-in-law, Cynthia Travis of San Francisco, CA and her sister-in-law, Jessica Travis of Conway, MA.

Her father is a retired Air Force colonel and diplomat, and Sophia lived the life of a military brat with stays in Nebraska, Illinois, Virginia, Germany, Michigan, New York, Korea, and Finland. Through her peripatetic childhood, Sophia gained fluency in English, Finnish, and Korean. She cemented deep connections with her cultural identity as an American of Finnish and Korean heritage. She also developed her genius for connecting with people of wildly disparate ages, ethnicities, and world views, and delighted in understanding what makes people both unique and deeply connected as fellow humans. She nurtured friendships from every phase of her life.

Her talent for piano was discovered at an early age, while the family was stationed in Germany. She was a classically trained musician and is a graduate of the Interlochen Arts Academy in Interlochen, Michigan. She matriculated at Indiana University Jacobs School of music in 1984 and eventually graduated with a degree in East Asian Languages and Cultures. In her own words, she “began nesting in Bloomington right away.” Her studies were somewhat less interesting to her than the rich social and cultural life in Bloomington and she quickly became entrenched in the community of local music, local businesses, and local organizations.

She married the love of her life, Gregory Reed Travis, in 1997. Together, they created a beautiful home on an historic property in southern Monroe County, the site of many epic summer pool parties and the repository of her locally-built harpsichords and collections of vintage accordion and hedgehog curios. Greg and Sophia supported each other in their professional and community endeavors and adopted many stray animals who were lucky enough to show up on their doorstep. Their joy as a couple was compounded exponentially by the birth of their son, Finnegan William Travis, on June 5, 2008. Finn was the center of Sophia’s vast universe and she was a phenomenal mother.

Throughout the years, Sophia’s genius for making connections led her to playing with a wide array of bands and musical ensembles. The inheritance of her Finnish grandfather’s accordion opened up even broader vistas for musical expression and collaboration. Highlights of her career included a national tour in 1995 supporting Michelle Shocked, and a performance at the 1997 Lillith Fair. More locally, she played with the bands Lola, Mitten, Squash Blossom String Pullers, and the Vulgar Boatmen to name just a few. She was a frequent collaborator with the Latin American Musical Ensemble and the group Hoosier Squeeze. Her love of tango music led her to organize several Tango & Beyond events featuring musicians playing tango music from different cultures. In addition to playing on too many of her friends’ records to count, she recorded two collections of her own original music: Music for Picnics and Music for Swimming.

This year’s Lotus Festival was dedicated to Sophia in recognition of the catalytic role she played in connecting local music with world music.

Not many people can see a logical and intuitive connection between music and public service, but Sophia did. She recognized that local musicians are embedded in the community and constantly donate their time and talents to important causes. She also recognized that the skills learned through training for musical performance are translatable to the public sphere and she became a talented—if iconoclastic—politician and public servant.

She ran for Monroe County Council in 2004, earning the nickname “The Velvet Steamroller.” Her musical background, beauty, and soft voice led some to underestimate her at their peril. An early political rivalry between her and Warren Henegar blossomed into a deep lifelong friendship of earned mutual respect. Warren succinctly described her campaigning style in 2004 as “Sophia really worked her ass off.”

She took her deep commitment to her chosen home and all of its citizens, and her genius for connecting with people, to create positive change in her community. She was instrumental in the establishment of the Karst Farm Splash Pad, a fully accessible water park for children, inviting local bands to play at its launch party. She also ensured that public Monroe County buildings have lactation rooms for nursing mothers and children. These are just a few of the lasting changes she made in the community. After a brief hiatus from office while she focused on Finn, she began campaigning for County Council again this year, winning the primary and on the ballot for this November election.

Her social service was deeply important to her, and deeply integrated in her life. She served on the boards of Options for Better Living, fundraised for Mother Hubbard’s Cupboard, and served as treasurer for Your Art Here. She was also the president of the IU Asian Pacific American Alumni Association and was founder and chair of the Monroe County Commission on the Status of Women. This merely scratches the surface of the many ways in which she supported and served the people of Monroe County and the causes that were dear to her heart. She envisioned and worked toward a sustainable community that embraced all of its citizens, and in which she would be proud to raise Finn.

The best way to honor Sophia Travis is to strive for genuine openness to other people. Make connections. Create without self-consciousness. Be generous with your compliments. Be fierce in your love and loyalty to your family and friends. Be steadfast in your commitment to social progress. Laugh heartily. Live fully.

A public celebration of Sophia’s life is being planned for Sunday, November 11. The family thanks Allen Funeral Home for its assistance. —Catherine Elizabeth Dyar

Click here to read more about Sophia Travis.

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