Another side to Walter Paepcke
October 6, 2006
Dear Editor:I commend John Colson for his timely piece on Walter Paepcke and the early days of the Aspen Institute (Aspen Times Weekly, Sept. 10). He captured many important facets of that early period, but I believe he overstressed some negative aspects of Paepcke’s impact on Aspen in those days.I worked for Walter Paepcke from 1953 until his death in 1960 as executive director and assistant to the president, and for Robert Andersen, Walter’s successor, for several more years. There were relatively few longtime residents and even fewer newcomers who shared Mike Garrish’s point of view about Walter, and I believe Mike profited quite nicely in real estate from the impact of the Institute, not to mention the ski corporation, over the years.Fred Glidden, who was my friend and fishing companion, respected Walter greatly for his courage in trying to do something special in Aspen. Much as I have admired Mary Eshbaugh Hayes as a reporter, I must differ with her view of Walter’s altitude: “I know what’s best for you.” Undoubtedly some felt that, but I believe Walter’s flaw was that he was an extremely busy and impatient man. He wanted to get things done. It was almost as if he was haunted by not enough time. Those of us who worked for him sometimes failed to represent his idealism. Walter Paepcke didn’t suffer fools gladly, but was a very kind, generous, and at times, very funny man. He was married to one of America’s most stunning women and had three beautiful daughters, and yet one wonders that he ever had the time to enjoy these wonderful gifts and his numerous achievements before being struck down by cancer at 60.I believe a strong case can be made that Walter Paepcke was one of the most outstanding Americans of the 20th century; certainly he was one of the rarest business leaders the country has produced. Clearly, his making the Goethe Bicentennial, the Music Festival and the Institute happen, not to mention his trusteeship (and founding) of the Illinois Institute of Technology and his trusteeship at the University of Chicago earned him that credit.I agree with Walter Paepcke’s daughter, Paula Zurcher, that much of what the Paepckes “tried to do has remained” and the good news is after several years of uncertainly, the Aspen Institute under Walter Isaacson is flourishing.Robert W. CraigFounder and president emeritus, The Keystone CenterKeysone/Washington, D.C.