December 15, 2005
Well, what can I say? Pat Richards joins an increasingly long line of others about whom I would have bet long money that “natural causes” wouldn’t be listed as their official reason for dying. After a lifetime spent dangerously, surfing, skiing faster than he should have, partying much harder than anyone should have and wrecking cars from here to the Yucatan, I sort of naturally figured he might meet his end in a more dramatic fashion. Someone killing him, for instance.Pat was the kind of person who could rub people the wrong way just that hard, or he could be one of the best friends you ever had. Or he could be both. With me, Pat was never anything but great. After a long time in this valley, where he first gained fame as one of the co-owners and chefs at the original, and irreplaceable, Village Pantry restaurant in the 1970s and ’80s, Pat was a well-recognized local character, with a lot more character than most.Even in his cups he was smarter than many and I think that was often a problem for him. Normally modest, engaging and companionable, his always sharp humor could turn pretty caustic, pretty quickly. You didn’t sit at the counter at the old Pantry when he was cooking unless you were ready to be assaulted, usually in good humor, but without friends or favor. At least he usually took as good as he gave, and it was all worth it because he was entertaining and quick and, more important, he was a hell of a cook.Pat was the one who showed me that it was just as easy to make a good omelet as a bad one, a lesson I still try to adhere to, however unsuccessfully. He was the one who, while everyone else threatened it, actually took me out on a river in Montana and taught me to fly-fish. I got my hands on one of my first apartments in Aspen when he moved out and I moved in.I think he did some of these things because a couple of us took him skiing when he was still new here and we couldn’t kill him. He just got stronger and smarter and eventually we weren’t waiting for him any more. Not that we ever waited much to begin with. He turned into a good gelande jumper and wore pro skier Whit Sterling’s silver warmup suit around the mountain without disgracing it. It wasn’t long after that when I think Pat informally retired from the sport to concentrate on more warm-weather endeavors in more summery climes. He was a serious scuba diver, but fly-fishing became his real passion and he pursued it everywhere he could, from Playa Del Carmen to the Fryingpan. I think, like many of us, some of Pat’s most peaceful moments were standing in water and waving a stick, as John Gierach puts it, letting the rest of the world flow by and focusing that formidable mind on something that didn’t require him to judge and jury it. I know I spent a lot of time around Pat when he was smiling. Some of it was much too late at night, or early in the morning, but we had fun. Still, the happiest I used to see him was always outdoors, hiking or diving, skiing or fishing. And even just standing around he had that great smile, the pursed lips behind the goatee, the glint in his eyes, the way he’d roll forward on to the balls of his feet. You were never sure if he was going to laugh or lash out. I usually saw the laughs.One of the most abrupt hang-glider wrecks I witnessed when we were all learning the sport was executed by Pat. It was the kind of brutal and quick slapstick that, naturally, put us all on the ground in hysterics. He got up and limped over and joined in. Pat lived with some great ladies over the years, who all admired him, I think, for his humor and compassion and his basic integrity. Pat always paid his debts, even at our three-day poker games, and I never saw him serve a bad meal or do a bad job. In the beginning, he could play as hard as anyone and then still outwork everyone. He always seemed wise and certain, back in the day, maybe because he was one of those guys, along with his longtime partner Jan Krayveld, who took to business and responsibility at a young age, and seemed to pull it off with a flourish.I admired him for that, for becoming such a success, so young and so full of what his friend Sam Vaughn called “piss and vinegar,” which I mistook as poise. He gave jobs to our friends that sometimes turned into lengthy and distinguished careers. He put a lot of trust and faith in people he liked, even if it sometimes came with a little too much advice, and he never asked for anything in return except the same.I didn’t see much of Pat in recent years, and I know he wasn’t often the happiest guy around. But I’ll remember him when he was happy. When he was young and strong and confident and had it all whipped. When there were no yesterdays and endless tomorrows, and we lived like wild gods. Maybe he got a little trapped there. Maybe a lot of us did. But it wasn’t all bad. I will miss the cocky stance and quick cackle, the boundless energy and short fuse, the crinkled eyes and unvarnished truth. I’ll miss the great stories, improbable plans and inevitable regrets. I’ll miss Pat’s inability to tell a lie well. His memories of Cozumel, of Fleetwood Mac, of fishing trips and drinking bouts, of saints and criminals and things we did that will only live with me now. Everyone who knew him will miss another piece of our lives here, another part of Aspen. And I’ll miss another friend.