‘Grande dame’ looks toward retirement
May 25, 2006
It all started with an advertisement. Molly Campbell was working in New York City, teaching fourth grade. She went home one night in 1967 and her roommate had a flier that said “Aspen for $250.”Included was airfare, bus ride to Aspen, six nights at the Continental and five days of skiing and lessons. “My roommate and I said, ‘we’re going,'” said Campbell, sitting in her office at The Gant more than 35 years later. “I was just overcome. It was the scenery, how much fun people were having, and I was totally hooked on skiing.”So she quit her job in New York, moved here and tried to figure out a way to make it work.Now, after 35 years in Aspen and 32 years working at The Gant, Molly Campbell is retiring. She has been a major figure in Aspen during the last four decades. And not just with her position as manager of The Gant. She served on the board of Stay Aspen Snowmass for 26 years and was twice the director of the Aspen Chamber Resort Association. “She’s the grande dame of Aspen,” said Don Sheeley, who has served with her at the chamber and is president of the Aspen Activities Center. “Molly is probably one of the most powerful, influential people in this town. She’s extremely bright, politically savvy and gets things done.”Campbell grew up in Florence, Ore., and earned a bachelor’s degree in history at the University of Oregon, in Eugene.
“I graduated one day and two days later I was in Peace Corps training,” she said. Soon after that she was off to Belize on assignment as a community development worker. “I loved it. I would recommend that any young person spend two years in the Peace Corps.”When she arrived in Aspen she felt qualified for a relatively good job. She had a bachelor’s degree and a master’s in teaching earned in New York, as well as two years of Peace Corps under her belt.”In 1970, everyone was standing in line for jobs,” she said. “We were very qualified people and we all just wanted to be dishwashers. I finally got a job at the Fasching House as a front desk clerk.”She worked there for the first three years in Aspen and then moved over to The Gant as the reservationist (it now has five reservationists).The pay: $700 a month.”I was ecstatic,” she said, shifting in her chair with enthusiasm. “I was a millionaire, almost.”One of the things she is most proud of is helping people who are now in the same situations she was in 1970.”I’ve really enjoyed working with young people at The Gant,” Campbell said. “Our assistant manager, Donald “Donnie” Lee, started out as a housekeeper … he will become the new general manager. That’s very exciting to me.”It was likely some of this unbridled excitement married with the will to get things done that led her to the general manager position, which she has held since 1980.
On Thursday, she walked around the grounds of The Gant, pointing out the changes that have been taking place in a $5.5 million renovation to exterior landscaping. She strode with purpose, picking up odds and ends that seemed out of place, and bubbling up about one or another new touch to the place.The Gant is a condominium resort in downtown Aspen with 123 units ranging from one- to four-bedroom apartments owned by the individual homeowners and rented out by The Gant. A couple of years ago, Campbell convinced the homeowners group to shell out $5.5 million for the outside renovations. “We’ve been able to bring The Gant into the 21st century,” she said, standing by a pool surrounded by recently planted shrubs, trees and a new barbecue grill area. “When all these flowers come out it’ll be lush, really lush.”The Gant was full of the activity of construction and Campbell nearly had to hold herself back from grabbing a hammer. As she walked past a loose drain pipe in a construction area, she flinched.”I see something like this and I want to say, ‘fix that!'” she said. “I have the worst time with it.”Evidently, the same has been true with her civic activities. “She doesn’t just look at The Gant, she looks at the whole community,” Sheeley said. “For many, it’s me, me, me, and for her it’s we, we, we.”
Mayor Helen Klanderud agreed. “She has always been a dynamic, involved, caring person,” Klanderud said, “a true Aspen advocate interested in doing what she can to make this the best place it can be.”In 2002, Campbell was a major force behind passing a lodging tax that now contributes about $500,000 to ACRA. “It was a pretty major accomplishment,” she said, then laughed. “It passed by 86 votes; I’d like to thank them personally.”In only a month, though, she’s leaving her office at The Gant and branching out to some other activities that are on her mind.”Sleeping in,” she said, explaining the plan for the month or two after she first retires, though she doesn’t expect to sleep in very much. “Once I get that out of me, there are probably committees and advisory groups I’d like to volunteer on.”She said she’ll also be out playing golf, skiing, camping and traveling to see friends in foreign lands. “The decision to retire, it’s a little bittersweet,” she said. “Particularly if you feel you’ve had a successful career doing what you enjoy. Fortunately, I don’t live in Detroit, I live in Aspen.”Joel Stonington’s e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org