Former Aspen Times columnist Su Lum remembered as irreverent, caring |

Former Aspen Times columnist Su Lum remembered as irreverent, caring

The late Su Lum's granddaughter Riley Mae Burns singing a song she wrote about her grandmother at a celebration of her life at the Aspen Community School on Tuesday.
Anna Stonehouse/The Aspen Times |

Longtime Aspen Times advertising director and columnist Su Lum had an odd list of 164 “things I hate” that was found among her possessions after she died in January.

Her daughter Skye Skinner said a memorial service would have been 165 on the list. Su didn’t like people fussing over her and she damn sure didn’t want anyone shedding tears.

But Su didn’t have any choice in the matter, so scores of friends, family and former colleagues gathered at the Aspen Community School in Woody Creek on Tuesday for a proper goodbye. It had the right dose of irreverence that Su would have demanded and the heartfelt memories that everybody else needed.

Little plastic baggies filled with Su’s ashes were there for the taking among mementos at the entrance.

“Su specifically said that her ashes should be in a bag and not a box and she would be happy if they were used to fill potholes,” Skinner announced at the opening of the informal ceremony. Attendees were encouraged to take some ashes and use them as they saw fit.

That was quickly followed by a salute with shots — served in plastic cups — of “shampoo brandy.” Lum took a likening to Bauchant, an orange liqueur that some kidded looked like it came in a shampoo bottle.

The salute was followed by a quick overview of Lum’s always entertaining life, and more than a few reminders that Su was master of the F-bomb. She started smoking at age 11 and got her first typewriter at 13 — establishing habits that stuck with her throughout life. She reluctantly gave up smoking a few years ago as her health deteriorated. She never quit writing.

Lum, who died at age 80, corresponded religiously with numerous friends and kept letters for decades. She hammered out her “Slumming” column for The Aspen Times from 1989 until just a couple of weeks before her death, about 1,400 weekly installments in all.

She was a “prolific chronicler of life,” said friend and Aspen author Bruce Berger. He called her his confidant for more than 50 years. He expressed thoughts and emotions to her in letters that he didn’t share with anyone else. She also was a perfect editor — smart and unafraid to tell him exactly what she thought of his work.

“That caustic pen won’t be replaced,” Berger said.

One fascinating chapter in Lum’s life was homesteading in Alaska with her husband, Burt, and infant daughter Skye in the early 1960s. She learned to skin moose with a razor blade, wash cloth diapers in an ice-cold stream and essentially live like a frontier woman.

The family moved to Aspen in 1964 when Burt took a teaching job. She found her tribe in Aspen, though her marriage quickly failed.

Lum joined The Aspen Times as an advertising representative in 1965 and soon became the ad director. She ran the paper for decades with owner and publisher Bil Dunaway and editor Mary Eshbaugh Hayes. All three are now deceased.

Former Aspen Times reporter and editor Andy Stone said he joined the staff in 1974, and had a few run-ins and a lot of laughs with Lum over the years.

He recalled thinking Lum wasn’t the prototypical Aspenite when he arrived in town, but as he got to know her he realized Su represented the spirit that made Aspen the place it was.

“Aspen was a mixture of Nordic gods and goddesses, ski racers and ski instructors, leftover hippies, ruthless real estate developers and oddball artists,” Stone said. “Su didn’t, on the face of it, fit into any of those categories.

“You look at her, forgive me, she wasn’t a Nordic goddess,” Stone continued. “She wasn’t a ski racer, but she had that spirit of Aspen. She was part of that early generation of people that moved to Aspen in the ’50s and ’60s and turned this town into the wonderful place it was for a lot of years.

“It was sort of that rebel spirit.”

And for the record, she was a rebel with exacting tastes. Dill pickles were last in line of the 164 things she hated.

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