Aspen loses Tom Peirce |

Aspen loses Tom Peirce

Janet Urquhart
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Longtime Aspenite Tom Peirce, a contender for a City Council seat before his battle with cancer forced him out of the race, died Thursday after undergoing surgery in Portland, Ore.

He was 48 years old.

Not quite a year had passed since Peirce was diagnosed with lung cancer last June, though he had never been a smoker.

He was seeking an experimental treatment for the disease in Portland – surgeons removed a piece of the tumor in his lung that was to be used in an attempt to create a vaccine for his cancer. He died from internal bleeding after the surgery, according to his brother, Fred Peirce, a local attorney.

“They thought the surgery went well, they were a little concerned about post-operative bleeding,” he said.

Peirce was considered a front-runner in this spring’s Aspen City Council race, before he unexpectedly withdrew in late April, when his health suddenly deteriorated.

He was admitted to Aspen Valley Hospital, where tests indicated he had suffered a heart attack and a mild stroke – probably induced by his underlying health problems, according to his family.

Even then, Peirce was reluctant to give up his bid for a City Council post, but family members and campaign colleagues convinced him to step down from the race and concentrate on his recovery.

He was on the mend after his release from AVH, according to Fred Peirce.

“When he left the hospital here two, two and a half weeks ago, he had a good appetite, was stable in all respects and was doing quite well. He was very optimistic,” Fred said. “We were all optimistic and encouraged.”

After his discharge from AVH, Tom went to Denver for previously scheduled radiation treatment and then flew to Portland on May 11, where he was accepted into the experimental treatment program. After three days of tests, the surgery took place on Thursday.

Close friends in Aspen began receiving word of his death early Friday.

Tom Cardamone, director of the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies and Peirce’s campaign treasurer, got to know him when he joined the ACES board of directors almost six years ago.

“He brought a worldly perspective to the ACES board, which was a great contribution that he made,” Cardamone said. “A clear highlight of his time on the board was our acquisition of the Rock Bottom Ranch. He played a strong role in that. I know he took a lot of pleasure out of that and the improvements that followed.”

The ranch, 115 acres of river-bottom land between Basalt and Carbondale, serves as a wildlife preserve and educational facility.

Cardamone keeps a quote by Thomas Jefferson on the wall of his office: “You are here to enrich the world and you impoverish yourself if you forget the errand.”

“It fits Tom [Peirce], I think,” Cardamone said.

In his campaign, Peirce spoke of his love of Aspen and called for new vision and leadership in city government to ensure Aspen’s growth is managed wisely in order to preserve its natural and cultural assets for future generations.

After announcing his bid for a council seat, Peirce acknowledged his cancer in a letter to the editor and indicated he had undergone treatments that kept the illness at bay.

“Of course, I would never have decided to run for council if I didn’t feel that I had the strength and energy to handle the campaign and the job,” he wrote.

Peirce moved to Aspen with his family in 1960, when he was 5 years old. The Peirces operated a guest ranch, Snowmass Lodge, nestled in Snowmass Valley. During the winters, his parents ran ski restaurants, first at Buttermilk and then at Aspen Highlands.

Peirce graduated from Aspen High School in 1972 and earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Colorado State University.

He later founded an educational travel company, High Country Passage, which ran worldwide natural history and cultural trips for alumni associations and museums. He sold the company three years ago, but continued to work as a consultant for its new owners.

“During my extensive travels, I never lost my love for Aspen and the valley – its people, its cultural programs and its spectacular setting,” he said during his campaign.

Peirce, who was single, is survived by his brother, Fred; sister Melanie Brown; and father, Everett, all of whom reside in the Roaring Fork Valley. His mother, Freddie, died seven years ago.

Plans for a memorial service are pending.

[Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is]

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