Garfield GOP chairman found dead at home
Republicans and Democrats responded with shock and sorrow Thursday over the news that Garfield County GOP Chairman Tom Beard has died of an apparent suicide.Beard, also president and general manager of the Battlement Mesa Co., was found dead of a gunshot wound Wednesday evening at his home up Canyon Creek west of Glenwood Springs. Authorities believe he took his own life. Beard was 55.”He was just a great individual,” said Garfield County Commissioner Larry McCown, a fellow Republican. “He was a person of great integrity, willing to go the extra mile for whatever the cause might be that he was involved with.””I think Tom had great vision for the county and truly cared,” said Greg Jeung, a Democrat who ran unsuccessfully for county commissioner in 2004 and also sat on a Glenwood affordable housing committee with Beard years ago.Beard’s wife, Pam Szedelyi, reportedly found Beard’s body about 6 p.m. Wednesday when she came home. Garfield County Sheriff Lou Vallario, also a Republican, said he joined in answering the call when he heard Beard was the shooting victim. He said Beard was on his porch, dead of an apparently self-inflicted gunshot wound. A handgun was found at the scene.The county coroner’s office will make an official ruling on the cause of death.Vallario said Beard left a note trying to explain to his wife why he took his life. But Vallario said it wasn’t clear to him from the letter what caused Beard to kill himself.Vallario said the shooting apparently occurred between 2 and 6 p.m. McCown and others who knew Beard said they had seen no signs that he might be suicidal. McCown said he had worked with Beard all day Saturday decorating the Hotel Colorado in Glenwood for that evening’s Republican Lincoln Day Dinner, which featured speeches by Republican gubernatorial candidates Bob Beauprez and Marc Holtzman. Beard conducted the business part of the meeting.Beard had served on county committees dealing with community corrections, a rewrite of subdivision regulations and a socioeconomic study.”He’s given a lot of free time to Garfield County,” McCown said.Vallario said Beard had contributed much to the community and the Republican Party. When Vallario had a project in mind, Beard would step up with offers to help and find funding, Vallario said.”He was not only, I thought, a very sharp and successful business person but he really was a good thing for our community,” Vallario said.Beard previously had worked as a developer in Florida before going to work at Battlement Mesa, an unincorporated community.”His role in the company has been substantial since 1992, when he was hired here,” said Lynn Shore, who oversees rental operations there and worked for Beard, whom he called a good friend.Beard was responsible for further developing Battlement Mesa, now home to about 6,000 people. The development had been created to house oil shale workers but later was marketed to retirees and others after the oil shale bust of the early 1980s.Beard oversaw a company that employed about 50 people. Shore said employees were in shock Thursday over news of Beard’s death.Beard also was an excellent golfer and in charge of an award-winning course at Battlement Mesa. Poke Stiers, owner of Tim’s Tools in Silt, said Beard had run a major golf tournament in Florida. He said they played together often after meeting each other here.”I never had to pay for one round of golf [at Battlement Mesa] when he was there. … That’s just the way he was, he never let you pay for anything.”Stiers said he doesn’t think any of Beard’s friends saw his death coming. He said Beard stopped in his store just last week, and Stiers paid up after losing a $10 bet on a professional football game. The two men also would take occasional trips to Las Vegas with their spouses.Both Beard and Stiers had served in Vietnam.”We had a lot of Vietnam stories to talk about,” Stiers said.By the time Beard had returned from Vietnam, he was an opponent of the war.Despite Beard’s involvement in the Republican Party, Republicans and Democrats alike said principles came ahead of party for him.”I think party politics probably wasn’t as big an issue with Tom as principles he believed in,” McCown said. “They just happened to align with party politics, maybe.”Said Jeung, “I think party lines, it didn’t matter to him, it was kind of what direction we were headed” as a county that mattered.Among his other contributions to the community, Beard and his wife joined several other landowners up Canyon Creek in putting 132 acres into a conservation easement through the Aspen Valley Land Trust to protect the canyon from development.Jeung and his wife, Sean, remember Beard gamely attending the Jeungs’ annual Thanksgiving dinner with his wife. Beard found himself a Republican in a house full of Democrats.”Tom had the best sense of humor about it,” Sean Jeung said. “He said not much makes him sweat, but Thanksgiving at our house always made him sweat.”She and Szedelyi knew each other from being in a book club together. Like others, Sean Jeung said she never saw signs that he might be thinking of committing suicide. “This is so completely out of the blue,” she said.Stiers’ wife, Dee, said people may send contributions in Beard’s memory to Valley View Hospital’s Roaring Fork Hospice in lieu of flowers. Szedelyi serves on the hospice’s advisory board. Its mailing address is 622 19th St., Glenwood Springs, CO 81601.Funeral service arrangements are being handled through the Farnum-Holt Funeral Home in Glenwood Springs and are expected to be finalized early next week.