Bob Lewis leaves legacy of education, environmentalism
August 2, 2005
Eighty percent of the people living in Aspen today probably don’t know it, but Bob Lewis was among that handful of Aspenites from the 1950s and ’60s who helped lay the groundwork for all that is great about this place. He didn’t build monster homes on Red Mountain. He didn’t thrust himself into the controversy over our employee housing program, at its inception or at any other time. He wasn’t a great patron of the Aspen Musical Festival and School. He didn’t come up with the Aspen Idea and he didn’t have a hand in starting the Aspen Institute. Even though he was a veteran of the 10th Mountain Division and World War II, his name doesn’t typically end up on lists of Aspen’s skiing greats from that era. But Bob Lewis, who died last week at the age of 84, is a giant here – as an educator, scientist and environmentalist – and as someone who inspired others to continue his projects.He moved to Aspen in the early 1950s and began a life here that included stints as a high school science teacher, filmmaker, biologist, preschool founder and head of an influential nonprofit. Most of all he was a tireless advocate for the environment, doing all that he could to teach people about this special place we live. The Braille Trail on Independence Pass was not only his idea but his creation. So he played a critical role in making Aspen a blind-friendly resort. The field trips he led to Hallam Lake as a science teacher in the 1950s helped convince Elizabeth Paepcke to preserve the lake and surrounding property and then finance the creation of the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies. For more than four decades, ACES has been an environmental and educational oasis at the very center of Aspen.In 1974 Lewis started the Wildwood School, a nontraditional preschool that is housed in earth-covered domes a few miles up Independence Pass. Its emphasis is on learning through sensory experiences with the environment.And in the later years of his life, Lewis was the tireless voice of the Independence Pass Foundation, spending much of the last decade working to stabilize slopes along the steepest stretches of the pass.His imprint can be seen around town and in the environmental sensibilities of every student to graduate Aspen’s public and private schools since the 1970s. As one admirer told The Aspen Times, he truly did think globally and act locally. His life is a testament to the good works that can come as a result.