Peggy Clifford, former Aspen author and journalist, dies |

Peggy Clifford, former Aspen author and journalist, dies

Peggy Clifford in 1965,
John M. Smith/Courtesy of Aspen Historical Society |

An outspoken voice in Aspen and a fierce defender of its preservation has died.

Peggy Clifford, the maker of four PBS documentaries and author of four books, including “To Aspen and Back,” who also was a managing editor and columnist for The Aspen Times, died Feb. 13 at a hospital in Santa Monica, California. She was 87.

Clifford lived in Aspen from 1953 to 1979 before moving to Philadelphia. She later settled in Southern California for the past 30 years, living by herself but still writing about politics for such publications as the Santa Monica Dispatch, which she founded and edited.

“In her last days, she never stopped reading The New York Times and The Los Angeles Times,” neighbor Gina Minervini said Tuesday.

Clifford was a voracious reader and writer, once owning a bookstore in Aspen.

“She was a kind of a delightful curmudgeon,” said John McBride, a close friend of Clifford’s. “Nobody loved Aspen more than her.”

Clifford, however, loathed the pouring in of big money into Aspen and the development that came with it. Her views were expressed for 12 years in a column she wrote for The Aspen Times.

“She wrote one of the most intelligent columns in the history of American journalism,” wrote the late maverick journalist Hunter S. Thompson in an introduction to “To Aspen and Back.” “Her collected columns on Aspen would be a real saga, a million words or more. No one did what she did. Nobody else wrote with the consistency, the genuine love for the valley that she did. Other people might have felt it, but she said it.”

Said McBride: “She was a good reflection of what this place once was.”

In June 1970 — a time when the hippies and free-thinkers were famously at odds with the town’s conservative lot — Clifford wrote in favor of an open space purchase by the city of Aspen.

Her words then, nearly 47 years ago, aptly apply in Aspen’s political discourse today: “The litany has become sad and familiar: we must decide now, this year, whether we want to save Aspen or sell it, we must decide whether we will simply stand by and watch our town and this valley be flooded with people and buildings or whether we will take decisive steps to regain control over our own destiny.”

She also laid claim to one of the first micro-daily newspapers in Aspen, launching the The Aspen Flyer in 1954 with Robert Craig until it was acquired by The Aspen Times, which published it four times a week during the high seasons. It morphed into a tabloid weekly before being phased out in the mid-1980s, according to an article in the also-defunct Aspen Free Press.

“She was the intellectual conscience of the town, she was in the trenches and usually in the minority,” Thompson wrote. “A lot of people were afraid of her. She says exactly what she thinks. She is an idealistic and very elegant lady who came out here and bought a bookstore and tried to live her life in as high a way and in as high a place as she could, but she fought the wars, too. She fought an honorable and intelligent battle.”

In her last paragraph of the epilogue in “To Aspen and Back,” Clifford waxed from her new home in Philadelphia about how Aspen had lost its idealistic innocence.

“Not long ago, I saw an ad in The New York Times,” she wrote. “It said, ‘Aspen is a party and you’re invited.’ I spent half my life at the party and one day I went out to get some air and didn’t go back. Perhaps I grew up and Aspen didn’t. Perhaps I changed and it didn’t. In any case, I am here and it is still out there, and neither of us, Aspen or me, is innocent anymore. I think that’s a good thing, but I no longer speak for Aspen, only for myself.”

McBride, who stayed in touch with Clifford over the years, recalled that she would often say she would return to Glamour Gulch. She never did, though.

“It’s probably better that she didn’t see the conversion of this place into a country club,” he said. “She would have died years ago if she had.”

Clifford never married or had children. She has a sister who lives in New York.

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