The sheriff we knew: Remembering Bob Braudis | AspenTimes.com
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The sheriff we knew: Remembering Bob Braudis

Friends, family and colleagues pay tribute to Sheriff Bob Braudis

No history of Aspen over the last 50 years would be complete without capturing the seismic impact Bob Braudis had on the seat of Pitkin County.

He will be forever linked to his Woody Creek buddy Hunter S. Thompson and the gonzo-inspired counterculture that shaped Aspen’s identity in the 1970s. As a political figure, he was first a county commissioner (1985-86) and then sheriff for 24 years, building on the live-and-let-live law-enforcement philosophy of his predecessor, Dick Kienast.

Braudis, who retired in January 2011 after his completing final four-year term as sheriff, passed away at his Aspen residence on June 3.



To sum up the life of this Catholic-raised Bostonian — who moved to Aspen in 1970 as a ski bum and became the face of the town’s free-thinking and progressive ambitions — is one thing. To sum up the sense of Braudis is another, which is why we reached out to his friends, relatives and colleagues for their insight on Aspen’s 6-foot, six-inch gentle giant. Rest in peace, Bob.

***




Bob Braudis would have been at the very top of the Honor Roll. He cherished and protected Hunter as few ever have. I was happy to be made one of his deputies.

— Jann Wenner, founder, Rolling Stone

***

Well damn. It wasn’t totally a surprise when Bob died, sadly. But he had started to seem weirdly invincible, in the most fragile way. And I can’t believe he barely got to use those new teeth.

He was one of the last of the true Aspen giants in just about every sense of the word. And it would be easy to understand if even his broad shoulders wearied of the weight of all those who have stood on them in this valley. There are some who live in interesting times, some who have ringside seats to them, and some who author them. Braudis was hands on through all of them in Aspen and beyond, right in the middle of the rush and tumble, as bright, compassionate and funny as any of the wild bunch he befriended.

For over 50 years he was a very good friend to me, one of the best. That he was the same to so many others is a testimony to the remarkable essence of the man. I like to imagine Hunter and Tom have saved you a seat at the bar, brother.

— Jay Cowan, Aspen native and “writer who will always call Aspen home wherever I actually live”

***

When I think of my father, Bob Braudis, several words come to mind. The first is “genuine.” It was his authenticity that made him such a wonderful peace officer. He genuinely wanted to help people, he genuinely accepted people as they were and he genuinely strived for peace.

A second word that comes to mind is “sweet.” He truly was a gentle giant. When I was small I was afraid of him. As I grew I realized he really was a 6-and-a-half-foot tall Teddy bear. He demonstrated love and kindness towards those around him, friends and strangers alike.

The third and far most significant word that comes to mind is Daddy, as that is what he was to me. After my parents divorced my dad raised me and my sister Stephanie. Raising two girls in Aspen as a single dad was a unique challenge. He was a deputy on shift work while he was doing his best for us. The sheriff’s office was our family. As a dad, he was always there when I needed him. I think many people can say the same thing. Over the years people have frequently mentioned to me that my dad was there to help them during their hardest times. He was my daddy and I am grateful.

Heidi Mitchell, daughter

***

Bob Braudis walked tall and spoke like a progeny of Socrates. His decency and thunder were legendary. Hypocrisy was foreign to his nature. Aspen has lost its high-wattage law enforcement beacon but the sheriff’s powerful light beams will continue shining over the Magic Valley forever.

— Douglas Brinkley, historian and editor of the Hunter S. Thompson’s letters collections “The Proud Highway” and “Fear and Loathing in America”

***


My grandpa touched so many lives. It was a gift to simply roam the sidewalks of Aspen with him when I was a kid; we could hardly make it 10 feet without a greeting and a chat with a person who knew him. But celebrity is not the way I describe him — he did not simply have fans, just an incredible amount of friends. He wore his heart on his sleeve like no one I have ever met in my life. Even more amazing to me was how he could share a story with me about every person we passed and talked to, detailed stories easily 40 years past. He was a walking book full of happy memories, life lessons, wild times, and above all else friendship and love. I am very proud to call him my grandfather, and truly believe we should all strive to be like him: firm in our beliefs, friendly to whom we meet, loving to those close, all with a touch of weirdness to keep it interesting!

— Jake Mitchell, grandson

***

My father nursed me back to health after a serious injury when I was 19 and I was honored to support him through his open-heart surgery and complications. Throughout it all we shared mutual unconditional love. He taught me how to be brave, humble and funny, and he shared his authentic love and affection generously with an open heart and a curious mind with everyone. He loved his family deeply. I am in awe of his grace under pressure and his wit and wisdom. I loved to watch him just be Bob. I will remember him with a wink and a smile.

Stephanie Braudis, daughter

***

His open-door policy as sheriff remained intact in retirement. Everyone was welcome to hang out at his apartment or pull up a chair if he was out to eat

— Katherine Braudis, granddaughter

***

Bobby was a gentle giant with the world always in his eyes and a pipe in his jaw. In a time like this we reflect on the impact he had and still holds on this community and the eternal ripples his unique smile brought to us all. I love you.

—Andrea Braudis, granddaughter

***

I loved him as I loved few others in Aspen. There was hardly a sentence I could begin that he couldn’t finish. A treasure to the community. A treasure lost to the world.

Bob Rafelson, Aspen

***

The publisher, HarperCollins, bought Bob’s and my book “The Kitchen Readings” on the basis of a 60-page proposal. When our literary agent called to inform us that the book had been sold, he said the publisher needed some assurances. I assumed that they wanted to know that we could actually write it. But no, they wanted to be assured that, when the time came, we would be available for a book tour. So I told the agent that my schedule was wide open. I was a vaguely employed artist and writer. Bob also indicated that he would be totally available as … he was the sheriff.

I don’t remember actually meeting Bob for the first time. I had been friends with his predecessor and boss Dick Kienest. “Dick Dove and his deputies of love.” Bob was a deputy of love. Kienest was literally a philosopher/lawman as he had a master’s degree from Notre Dame and taught on the academic level before moving to Aspen and becoming a cop.

So it was through Dick that I met Bob. Bob’s and my friendship wasn’t one of those things that started up and grew. Right from the beginning it was as if we had always been pals. Maybe that’s why I don’t remember first meeting him. Perhaps it was our common Boston roots, and I was never suspicious of him because he didn’t have the accent, at least as far as I could tell he didn’t have the accent.

Once you were friends with Bob, that was that. He was utterly loyal, no one ever fell from grace, he felt it was his job to take care of all of us, and he did. Everyone believed Bob was their guy. From the folks in the trailer parks to the top of Red Mountain, we all felt safe with Bob running things.

Bob wasn’t soft on crime but he also wasn’t a huge fan of the conventional criminal justice system. A few years ago a big deal was made of someone in the social services business giving a minor miscreant a bus ticket out of town rather than throwing him in the can. Bob had been doing that for years only almost no one knew it. For him it was just the right thing to do and not a PR stunt.

Bob felt drug use and addiction were medical issues and not crimes, and to say he didn’t fancy outside law enforcement agencies sleazing into town to impose their views on that topic on his people would be an understatement.

Bob’s second act wasn’t as focused as some of us hoped it might be, but it was his life not ours. And the rest of us will never know what it is to be as well loved as Bob was. It was a huge privilege to see Sheriff Bob sitting on a bench in the mall and to join him, just to jaw, and be seen with him. Bob gave while he was in office and kept on giving till the end.

— Michael Cleverly, co-author with Braudis on “The Kitchen Readings: Untold Stories of Hunter S. Thompson”

***

The last time I saw Bob was last year at my Halloween retirement party in the District Courtroom (see photo). He was a good friend. Over the years, I can’t tell you how many people in court wanted me to know that Bob Braudis was also a friend of theirs. So much so, that cops and DAs would roll their eyes. Like who isn’t?

Bob spearheaded bond reform, pretrial services, and mental health-informed approaches to law enforcement, long before it became accepted practice. His jail was peaceful and humanistic, as was his attitude; he was indeed a savant and visionary leader committed to Pitkin County, his friends, and his family.

What I loved about Bob the most was his courage to be himself and ability to buck the system. It’s hard to find a more authentic and loving guy who helped change the world. Bob Braudis was ahead of his time and the world is still trying to catch up.

— Erin Fernandez-Ely, Pitkin County Judge, 2000-2021

***

A great tree has fallen.

— DeDe Brinkman, ex-girlfriend

***

Bob was one of the reasons we came to Aspen to raise our family in the mid-eighties. For me, Bob was Aspen. He was a giant, who cast a broad shadow across our little village. He mentored our children and taught us by his example. His persona combined righteous indignation with a sophisticated intellect and an infectious naughty streak.

Bob was a Boston Southie who attended law school. He charmed everyone he met, with his piercing eyes, jovial manner, and infectious, wide, toothy smile, which he came to describe as his “grill.” He became a fixture at my wife Christine’s big round dinner table. He could hold his own with celebrities, historians, and scholars. I’ve sat and watched him give a civics lesson to a federal judge and get into deep, heady discussion of global politics with editors of major publications and icons of world finance.

Bob Braudis was my best friend, but then he was everybody’s best friend. He promised my bride Christine that he would never abandon us. That’s the only time that I’m sure he ever lied. RIP, Brother Bob!

— Gerry and Christine Goldstein, friends

***

Bob Braudis was a good friend of mine since the 1970s, when he was a sheriff’s deputy working with Sheriff Dick Kienast. There existed in legend a group which called itself The Woody Creek Rod and Gun Club. Its mythical organizers were Hunter Thompson and Ed Bradley. It met every Sunday afternoon at Owl Farm between September and February when professional football was being televised. Its motto was that on Sunday afternoons when professional football was being televised, no laws needed to be observed in Woody Creek. Bob Braudis was the “Sergeant at Arms” of the Woody Creek Rod and Gun Club. We had fabulous discussions about politics and football and occasionally drank an alcoholic beverage.

Bob was unique among law enforcement officers and I have known many. Bob honestly and fully believed in the presumption of innocence and the constitutional rights of criminal defendants. I am a criminal defense lawyer. When I and my law partners would try criminal cases in the Aspen courtroom, Bob would often observe from a front row seat behind the defense table as a visual reminder to the jury that law enforcement was even-handed and did not reflexively favor the prosecution. And Bob would often compliment defense lawyers for able cross-examinations. At the annual St. Regis-Aspen conference of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, Bob would always be the first speaker, welcoming us to Aspen and emphasizing the importance of criminal defense lawyers to the fair administration of justice.

Bob was the gold standard for fair and enlightened law enforcement. Our community is incredibly fortunate that Bob’s legacy perpetuated that of Dick Kienast and has passed to Sheriff Joe DiSalvo.

— Hal Haddon, attorney

***

We learned a lot at Owl Farm. All of us. We learned to question authority, strike that; we were born to question authority. We learned how to do that together strategically for the right reasons at the right time, we learned that at Owl Farm. More important than that, we learned the value of love and friendship. We knew what it meant to call someone a friend.

We learned how to love.

Bob was a lot of things to me, to all of us. He was brilliant, he was funny, he was tall. He was complicated. The most important thing that I remember and will always remember about Bob Braudis is the way he loved us. He was good at that, he was a master at love. We learned that at Owl Farm. We learned to hold our friends close. My son learned that too watching these men love one another in real ways that mattered. I am eternally grateful for that. That lesson matters.

They are all there. At the back of the land, drinks in hand watching us. That’s how I think of them. Bob joins Hunter and Tom and George and my dad … all watching us move about. None of them saints, all of them sacred. That force of love and righteousness … is one stronger now. You can feel them lifting you up when you need them. Now Bob is there too. He will lift us higher on those giant shoulders laughing the whole way home. The immediate lesson is … call your people. Tell them you love them. Say thank you.

Repeat. Over and over.

Then do something to help someone else. Do that too. These are the things we learned at Owl Farm. These are the things Bob taught us. Rest in Power, dear gentle giant.

— Jennifer Winkel, Hunter S. Thompson’s daughter-in-law

***

I have a strong memory of meeting Hunter S. Thompson and Bob Braudis for the first time, which I suspect is the case for most anyone who ever crossed paths with either of them. Hunter, in particular, didn’t so much enter a space as crash into it, sometimes literally so. The same could be said about his relationships. And Bob, well, he always seemed to be there alongside HST, for support, and to ensure the damage wasn’t too horrific or prosecutable.

It was a spectacular day in May of 1995. I was having a beer on the front porch of the long-since-defunct restaurant The Howling Wolf, when up pulled Hunter and Bob, the latter at the wheel, in a 1973 Chevrolet Caprice convertible known as the “Red Shark.” A friend had gifted the Caprice to Hunter a few years earlier to commemorate the primary mode of transportation in his most famous work, “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.” Of course, the car Hunter drove to Vegas was a ‘72, but who’s counting?

Hunter got out of the car and ambled up the walkway. His herky-jerky gait was said to be the result of one leg being a few inches shorter than the other, thus he moved like a running back perpetually juking to avoid would-be tacklers. Bob glided up behind him, ever-present cigarette in hand, a big gap-toothed grin on his face. Of course, there was nothing short about Bob, limbs or otherwise. He was the biggest cop I’d ever seen. That probably should have scared me, trouble-making Philly-bred punk that I was. But nah, not Bob. Like the song goes, he elicited a peaceful, easy feeling.

Hunter carried a pint glass full of Chivas, and smelled like he’d been holed up for hours in a van with Cheech & Chong, which, come to think of it, is likely to have happened at some point. “Ho, ho, what do we have here?” he said, sizing me up through the lenses of his trademark aviator shades. And before I could answer — or even form a thought on how I might answer — he wheeled around, yanked open the door to the restaurant and to no one in particular barked, “ice, goddammit!” In no time flat, a server deposited a full bucket onto the table.

“That’s better,” Hunter said, packing his pint glass with crushed ice and wiping his hands on his Hawaiian shirt. “We won’t stand for being treated like savages!”

Sensing I was a bit bewildered, Bob gently patted me on the shoulder with one of those giant paws of his, smiled and said, “Hey man, you ready for this?”

And thus began friendships. With Hunter, it lasted a solid decade, right up to when he took his own life with a gun. Hard to believe it’s been 17 years since that happened. Shit. And now Bob is gone too, and along with him another big piece of what’s left of what once was so damn cool about Aspen.

The thing I miss most about Hunter is the chaos. The sense that any given moment, things might go terribly awry, spin out and cause unspeakable horror. With Bob, I’ll miss the comforting feeling that there was no way such horror would ever actually come to pass. Not on his watch.

Hunter once said it never got weird enough for him, and I guess I felt the same way throughout the course of my friendships with both him and Bob. So maybe it’s the weirdness I miss too. Even in casual encounters, these men challenged people to be more aware, and nearly everyone recalls their interactions and how they left a mark. Every encounter took on a sense of literature, of being in a real-life film complete with plot twists and occasional fade outs.

They’re both gone now, Hunter and Bob. The credits are rolling. The house lights are up. And all I can think is, goddamn, it was a hell of a show.

— Dan Dunn, former Aspen Daily News reporter and host of the “What We’re Drinking” podcast


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