As Aspen celebrated the life of Nancy Pfister on Saturday, it was obvious what kind of influence she had on those present.
Tears of grief seemed absent as Pfister’s life was truly celebrated. Each and every person who spoke at the service recalled a woman known for her ever-present smile and gregarious nature, and all of them told tales of a woman whose deep love of life was contagious to anyone who met her.
Pfister was found dead at her home at West Buttermilk more than two weeks ago.
Local authorities say Katherine Carpenter called authorities on Feb. 26 to report a body found in a closet at Pfister’s home.
Carpenter was arrested Saturday in connection with Pfister’s homicide. William Francis Styler III and his wife, Nancy Christine Styler, were arrested at the Aspenalt Lodge in Basalt on March 3 and remain in custody in the Pitkin County Jail. All three face charges of first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit first-degree murder.
The celebration of Pfister’s life was held at the Hotel Jerome ballroom and was packed with a standing-room-only crowd of an estimated 400 friends and family. Hundreds of Tibetan prayer flags were draped across the ceiling, and naked trees were set up throughout the ballroom so people could attach personal notes of remembrance on them.
The speakers at the celebration were those closest to Pfister. Roaring Fork Valley resident George Stranahan, who now lives in Carbondale, helped raise Pfister’s daughter, Juliana, when Pfister was traveling, which she did often. He was also the first to speak at the service.
“Nancy was the senior adventurer of the world,” Stranahan said. “She was a travel adventurer, a relationship adventurer, a social-cause adventurer — a life adventurer. Adventure is always about surprise and discovery, and these are what fed her spirit. To be with Nancy was to be swept along into her adventures, to discover and to be surprised. Let us honor that spirit, remember the stories and celebrate that she chose us for the adventures.”
One of Pfister’s closest friends for most of her life, Billy Clayton, spoke next and described himself as “the boy who knew Nancy before she discovered boys.”
Clayton’s stories, while difficult at times for him to share, brought much laughter from those in attendance.
“Here in Aspen, Nancy called me Champagne Billy, Billy Holiday or Billy Budd to all kinds of people,” Clayton said. “Away from Aspen, I was known more as her brother. You can imagine what it was like to be Nancy’s brother — the most embarrassing, far-out situation imaginable.”
When Juliana spoke, the emotions ran high, as she didn’t have a prepared speech. She recalled her mother as a loving, caring and ecstatic person.
“She was my portal into this world,” Juliana said. “She told me there was a soul knocking, and so she had me, but I feel like I chose her. I really thought we had a lot more time. The most important thing is to remember and honor her. I hope she’s shining on as the eternal butterfly that she is.”
After Juliana spoke, a slideshow was presented as the Paul Simon song “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes” played in the background. There were many images of Pfister from her travels around the world, as well as with her parents, family and friends. Almost every slide was dominated by Pfister’s smiling face.
Christina Pfister, Nancy’s sister, spoke next and called her sister a very beautiful person.
“Many of us lived vicariously through Nancy’s adventures,” Christina said. “My parents raised three different girls in the wildest town in the West. This town has come together to protect and to grieve as only a town like Aspen can.”
Christina’s son, Tyler, then performed a song he wrote especially for Pfister after her death.
Aspen resident Mary Conover, another close friend of Pfister, talked about a woman who had a magnetic charm that few could escape.
“Many of my closest friends are in this room,” she said. “I know most of them because of Nancy. She loved Aspen and always returned home. Nancy burned bright and burned hard.”
John and Janie Bennett, two more close friends of Pfister’s, were the last to speak at the celebration.
Janie Bennett talked about a woman who was the ultimate connector and shared stories of Pfister’s laughter and her ultimate charm. She even shared a story of going horseback riding with Pfister when the horse Pfister was riding was in heat. Riding through dense fog, Pfister and Bennett had to gallop away from another horse that was trying to mount Pfister’s horse.
“It was a scary situation as we had to escape the other horse,” Bennett said. “When we finally got away, I heard the familiar howl of Nancy’s laughter. She thought the whole experience was hilarious.”
John Bennett told a story of how Pfister came to his family’s ranch in Texas while his mother was terminally ill. He said Pfister showed up out of the blue and spent more than a week at his mother’s side, talking and making concoctions to help her heal.
“My mother was so happy Nancy spent that time with her,” he said. “This valley will long remember her. How could we possibly forget?”