Businesswoman, socialite Tukey Koffend dead at 83 |

Businesswoman, socialite Tukey Koffend dead at 83

Tukey Koffend, left, with her sister, Lydia.

Tukey Koffend, who for many years was a brilliant presence in Aspen’s social, cultural, and business worlds, died Saturday, Jan. 29, in her home in Santa Fe, with her son David at her bedside. She was 83.She was the owner of the popular and unique women’s clothing store Uriah Heep’s, an Aspen institution for decades.The cause of death was an inoperable brain tumor that had progressed with surprising speed. As recently as early January, she had given a Twelfth Night Party, to which more than 100 guests came. It proved to be a farewell to nearly all of them.Good-looking and unfailingly witty, she had led an adventurous life from the time she left Bennington College and joined the Red Cross to participate in World War II.

Stationed in London during the V-1 and V-2 attacks and later at Tempelhof airfield in Berlin after the surrender, she later described herself as the only virgin in the ETO – the European Theater of Operations – and in a typical episode, given a lift by friendly pilots, was an observer of part of the Nuremberg War Crime Trials, mingling with famous journalists like Janet Flanner of The New Yorker, Marguerite Higgins and Quentin Reynolds. She was advised by Reynolds that he was too old for her to call him Quentin and too young to be called Mr. Reynolds, so he suggested, “Why don’t you just call me Uncle Quent?”Journalism and writing were among her talents, and it was while working as a society reporter on the Omaha World Herald after the war that she met her husband, John Koffend, who was also working for the paper. The couple was married in Aspen in the house of her younger sister Lydia. The wedding did not proceed without incident. At the last moment, in her wedding gown, the bride changed her mind, but then, hearing the Wedding March being played on a music box that Fritz Benedict, the architect and future great patron of the Music Festival, had found somewhere, she came down the stairs.The groom broke his leg skiing the next day.Living first in Omaha, then Los Angeles where John Koffend had a job with Time, the couple finally ended up in Chappaqua, N. Y., amid a colony of Time/Life people. Tukey began a business designing hats, some of them for Bonwit Teller. It was called Lids by Tukey, an undertaking unique enough so that, appearing on the program “What’s My Line?” she stumped the panel of experts. Based on her success, she opened Uriah Heep’s – a more or less dress store – and after a very public divorce, moved it to Aspen, where for a long time it brought animation to the southeast comer of the Hotel Jerome.Uriah Heep’s became the centerpiece of her life. For 25 years, customers fell in love with its owner and the astonishing variety and style of the clothing, usually silken and colorful, as well as jewelry, art, and, as she liked to say, postcards. She would wear beautiful things from the shop to parties and literally sell them off her back.

Enthusiastically involved with the annual Design Conference and Aspen’s cultural life, for a time she had a program on GrassRoots TV called “Aspen AM,” starring herself and her two English pugs. It featured news, interviews, and a “Masked Gourmet” who reviewed restaurants.She traveled extensively, especially when her children were grown, frequently to Mexico, where she bought things for her shop. Over the Christmas holidays one year, she went to Egypt alone and spent New Year’s Eve spiritedly resisting the pleas for “kissings” by the hotel manager. She traveled to New Guinea, bicycled in China, and in India with Aspen’s former mayor, Stacey Standley, and the photographer Nicholas DeVore. Later she taught English to children in schools in Poland and China as a volunteer.It was not only her intelligence and originality that struck people, but her enduring youthfulness. She skied into her late 70s when neck problems forced her to stop. Some of the problems were the result of being hit by another skier at Snowmass. The ski patrolman, as a precaution, told her to just lay there and be still. “Surely you mean lie there,” she said.She was a remarkable hostess, inviting to her house friends or people she had just met. Mexican, American Indian, and Eastern European art filled every bookcase and wall. Someone described a morning in her guest room like waking up in a piñata.She was born in Omaha on Aug. 8, 1921, the daughter of Alan and Louise Tukey, and christened Catherine Ann Tukey. Her father was in the insurance business, and he and his wife were active socially. As a young girl, Tukey was a princess at the somewhat exclusive Aksarben Ball (Nebraska spelled backwards), and through her long life, she strode with the spirit and élan of a kind of royalty.

Along with her sister, she settled finally in Santa Fe, where as girls they had gone to boarding school at Bishop’s Lodge. It was here that she was unexpectedly stricken. As she was going into surgery for a biopsy, serious enough in itself, she lightheartedly said to her sister, “I hope I don’t come out of this any smarter than I am.”In every respect but the ultimate, she was invincible.One of her last undertakings before her illness was to write a cookbook which she titled “No Cooking At All, Almost, Hardly” (Sunstone Press, Santa Fe), based on her belief that a dinner party should not necessarily be preceded by a wearisome day in the kitchen. The initial printing was quickly sold out, and it is likely to become a collector’s item with its author’s illustrations and 200 pages of easy, sometimes delicious recipes, together with hostess-to-hostess confession and advice. In it is the author’s inimitable and dauntless voice.Tukey is survived by two of her sons, John Brooke Koffend in Los Angeles, and David Koffend in Santa Fe. A third and youngest son, Charles Barnaby Koffend, was drowned in the Roaring Fork River in 1973. She is also survived by her sister, Lydia Cleveland of Santa Fe, and there is her pug Dulce.Cremation and funeral ceremonies were private.

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