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City, institute lose a leader

Janet Urquhart

The revered West End expanse that is home to The Aspen Institute’s Meadows campus, the Music Festival and School, and the Aspen Physics Institute are all part of David McLaughlin’s legacy.The former president and CEO of the institute, who died Wednesday while vacationing in Alaska, was remembered Thursday as a man of great vision and leadership skills.”David had a great vision for the future of the institute,” said John Bennett, former Aspen mayor. “He saw how important it was to preserve that campus, and he saw how important it was to preserve relationships with the fellow nonprofits that shared the campus and with the city of Aspen.”McLaughlin served the institute in several capacities and took its helm from 1988 to 1997. It was during that period that he served with a consortium of players who engaged in complicated and protracted negotiations with the city to preserve and divvy up the campus that some of Aspen’s most venerable institutions call home.The land had been acquired in bankruptcy by Mohamed Hadid and his company, Savanah Limited Partnership, which also gained ownership of the former Ritz-Carlton Hotel property and other holdings.Then-Mayor Bill Stirling had convinced McLaughlin to speak at a conference series Stirling initiated in Japan. Discussions between the two men, as they traveled across Japan via train, led to the committee that negotiated a master plan for the campus, perched over the confluence of the Roaring Fork River and Castle Creek.The two men were political opposites but shared the desire to preserve the campus and end the threat of development, except for the limited townhome development that Savanah retained in the final deal, according to Stirling.”A lot of the credit goes to [David] for allowing that to happen,” Stirling said. “Could we have done it with another person in that leadership role? Quite possibly, but I don’t know. I do know what happened with David there.””He really was phenomenal in terms of his leadership skills … to make that happen,” agreed Amy Margerum, former city manager, now executive vice president at the institute. “For Aspen, that was his legacy.”McLaughlin also led a $20 million capital campaign to renovate the Meadows buildings for year-round use.Approval of the Aspen Meadows master plan was the final action by the Stirling-led council before Bennett took office in June 1991.McLaughlin quickly arranged lunch with the new mayor.”From the very beginning, he made it clear he wanted to build a deeper relationship with the city of Aspen,” Bennett recalled. “It really marked an opening of the institute to the community that we hadn’t seen before.”He wanted the institute to play a productive role in community affairs.”The city was offered free use of the institute’s seminar rooms, and McLaughlin arranged city access to experts in various fields during community deliberations at the institute, Bennett noted.Near the end of his tenure as president, McLaughlin played a key role in the establishment of the Henry Crown Fellowship Program.In 1995, he brought together Lester and Susan Crown of Aspen Skiing Co. ownership; Francis and Muriel Hoffman (trustee of the Henry and Gladys Crown Charitable Trust); and seminars director Jim O’Toole to create the fellowship, officially established the next year.In 1997, the first class was established and the institute presented McLaughlin with its annual Public Service Award. He remained the chairman of the program’s board of overseers until his death.The fellowship brings young leaders to Aspen four times a year over a two-year period.”David said, ‘It’s one thing to be important, it’s another thing to be significant,'” recalled Francis Hoffman, of Beverly Hills, Calif. “He was probably the most significant man I ever met. He did for others before himself, he cared for others. He was passionate about the things he did.””He was relentless,” agreed Bill Mayer, current chairman of the institute’s board of trustees and a part-time Aspen resident. “When he got himself focused on something, there was no stopping the guy.”Much is made of McLaughlin’s role in preserving the Meadows, but he was also instrumental in expanding the institute’s reach, Mayer noted. Institute facilities in Japan and Italy came about during McLaughlin’s tenure, and he began work on Aspen India, which opened recently.McLaughlin was 72 years old and a resident of Annapolis, Md.In addition to his work with the institute, he served as a jet pilot in the U.S. Air Force; an executive at Champion International Inc; president, CEO, and chairman of the Toro Co.; president of Dartmouth College, his alma mater; chairman and CEO of Orion Safety Products; chairman of the boards of CBS, ARCO, Chase Manhattan, and other companies; and as chairman of the Board of Governors of the American Red Cross.He is survived by his wife, Judy, and four children, Bill, Wendy, Susan and Jay.Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is janet@aspentimes.com


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