Friends, family remember Aspen icon Ruth Brown
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
ASPEN – Ruth Humphreys Brown was remembered during a Saturday memorial service for her generosity, strength and quirky sense of humor.
Brown, well known for having helped to shape the Aspen community after World War II, died at her home on Dec. 30. She was 90.
Saturday’s memorial was described as a “celebration of life” and included remarks by family and friends before a large audience at Paepcke Auditorium. They told of how she raced cars, hunted elk, flew airplanes, skied and swam, entertained endless numbers of guests and donated time and money to myriad causes. She was married to longtime Aspen Ski Corp. executive D.R.C. Brown, and is the namesake of Ruthie’s Run, an intermediate trail on Aspen Mountain.
The event also featured a short video presentation with black-and-white and color photographs from various stages of Brown’s life, accompanied by classic showtunes such as “Thank Heaven for Little Girls” from Gigi, “Summertime” from Porgy and Bess, “Camelot” from the musical of the same name and “Memory” from Cats. Brown was said to be a fan of French actor-singer Maurice Chevalier.
Brown hailed from the well-known Humphreys and Boettcher families of Denver. Daughter Lorni Cochran, of Brattelboro, Vt., spoke of a mother who strayed far from her high-society roots of nannies and debutante balls to become a WWII pilot of bombers used for training, and later, a ranch wife.
“She was a tough cookie who expected the rest of us to be equally tough,” Cochran said of her siblings. “And I’m not sure any of us really measured up.”
Cochran said it wasn’t long ago that her sister, Charla Brown, was visiting her mother, and “in a moment of quiet reflection,” asked what the best times of her life were.
“Mom, sitting in her wheelchair, having given up all semblance of independent living and needing round-the-clock care, replied without the least bit of irony, ‘You mean up until now?’ She always had a way of making the best of any situation,” Cochran said.
Earlier, granddaughter Jenny Brown related stories about how she and her cousins grew up under the influence of “Nana.” Some of her comments recalled memories of life on Wagon Wheel, the Browns’ southern Colorado Ranch.
There, gathered for Christmas or summer vacations, the family enjoyed skating, swimming, fishing, dinners, wine-inspired arguments, volleyball games and frolicking with dogs, Jenny Brown said.
“And there was Nana, always poised and elegant, in her red chair or on the porch swing,” she said. “To us she was a humble queen, watching from her throne over her kingdom, always with a glass of cranberry juice in hand.”
The granddaughter’s stories included a 2003 breakfast involving Ruth Brown and 10 grandkids, memorable for the fact that “Nana tried to serve us Raisin Bran that had expired in 1991.”
But Jenny Brown took away much more from her grandmother. She reflected on a time when she was about to go swimming in a cold lake at Wagon Wheel when clouds began to block the sun, and she had second thoughts.
That’s when a cousin taunted, “Nana used to do it and she never wimped out.”
“That was all it took: one reminder of a lady so fearless and magnificent in our eyes. And then we were on our way, desperately breast-stroking through the frigid water,” Jenny Brown said.
Others who honored Ruth Brown at the memorial included lifelong friend Harriet Kelly, who spoke of her fearlessness in skiing and car racing; Gruffie Clough, who talked of Brown’s dedication to the local Outward Bound program, the first in the country; and friend John McBride, who shared with Brown “a sense of humor and a sense of the absurd.”
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An inspirational piece of 20th century artist Herbert Bayer is being installed on the staircase next to Aspen City Hall by his granddaughter, Koko.