Wyly leaves his legacy on Community Arts Center
ASPEN – Charles Wyly was a lot of things to a lot of people, but one local arts center credits him and his wife with its founding and continued success.
The Wyly Community Arts Center, now in Basalt, got its start in 1996 with the financial boost of Wyly and his wife, Dee, back when some of their grandchildren attended the Aspen Community School in Woody Creek.
The couple also lived in Woody Creek, and when they learned that Deborah Jones, then an art teacher at the Community School, had proposed a community arts center, they gave it the financial boost it needed to take flight. The arts center was built on the same mesa where the Community School now sits.
“He continued, along with Dee, to be a major donor to the Arts Center over the last 15 years,” Jones recalled on Monday, a day after Charles Wyly died in a car accident on Highway 82 near the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport. He was 77.
“What was so remarkable was his leadership and philanthropy in the arts community not only in our valley, but also in Texas and beyond.”
In Texas, Wyly and his younger brother, Sam, along with their wives, gave $20 million to help build Dallas’ performing arts center.
“What he was doing in Texas and with the theater and the arts, he truly believed in,” Jones said. “He really embodied the understanding that arts is essential to the human endeavor that contributes to society.”
News of Wyly’s death circulated quickly in the social-media universe.
On Twitter, DallasMuseumArt noted that “The city of Dallas has lost another champion and patron of the arts, our thoughts are with friends and family of Charles Wyly.”
Added iamdavo: “Rest In Peace Charles Wyly. Few people have done more to advance the arts in Dallas. Your presence will be sorely missed.”
Aside from their contributions to the arts, Charles and Sam Wyly also donated generously, but quietly, to Republican causes: The brothers had said they’d given about $10 million to GOP candidates and causes since the 1970s.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry was one of the biggest political beneficiaries, receiving more than $300,000 combined from the Wylys since 2000, according to Texas Ethics Commission reports. According to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, the brothers had donated almost $2.5 million to more than 200 Republican candidates and committees at the federal level over the past two decades.
Last summer, the Securities and Exchange Commission accused Wyly and his brother of using offshore havens to hide more than a half-billion dollars in profits over 13 years of insider stock trading. The brothers denied and were fighting the allegations.
Jones said she did not engage in political talk with Charles Wyly, and “he was always very gracious with me and our board.”
She recalled Wyly saying “I’m right there behind you” when she began the movement to relocate the Wyly Community Arts Center to downtown Basalt, as she believed it needed be in a more visible location in order to thrive. It moved there in 2005.
On July 21, just two weeks ago, Charles and his wife threw their annual benefit for the Wyly Community Arts Center at their Woody Creek home.
“It was very generous of them,” Jones said. “He just continued to believe in what we were doing and was totally behind us. … Whenever he was in town, he’d come visit the Arts Center.”
Born during the Great Depression, Wyly was a child when the economic collapse forced the surrender of his family’s cotton farm in Lake Providence, La. He and his younger brother went on to attend Louisiana Tech University in the 1950s, then went to work for IBM.
Charles Wyly helped his brother run their startup software company, University Computing, and later founded and led several other companies including arts and crafts retail chain Michaels Stores Inc., which was sold in 2006. He also was a former member of a White House Advisory Council for management improvement.
According to a news release Monday from the Pitkin County Coroner’s Office, the autopsy for Wyly is complete. His death was accidental, from multisystem injuries. Alcohol and drugs were not a factor.
The cause of the crash, which occurred just before 11 a.m., remains under investigation.
Wyly, 77, was killed when a Ford Freestyle sport utility vehicle, driven by Genezi Lacereda, 40, of Snowmass Village, struck the Porsche Targa he was driving, according to a news release from the Colorado State Patrol. The other vehicle struck Wyly’s Porsche on the driver’s side, the patrol said.
Wyly was trying to turn left onto Highway 82 from Airport Road when his vehicle was struck, the patrol said. Lacereda suffered moderate injuries.
Wyly was transported to Aspen Valley Hospital and pronounced dead shortly after noon.
The State Patrol said both drivers were wearing their seat belts, and neither alcohol nor drugs is a suspected factor in the crash.
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