A tribute to an Aspen giant
November 24, 2006
(Editor’s note: This soapbox was originally a letter sent to “Andre, Pierre and Shauna,” children of the local artist Lou Wille, who died earlier this month.)All three of you have had to handle a lot of sadness in the past few years after the deaths of your mother, Lynne, your older brother, Raoul and now the patriarch, Lou. Even though it is primordial that your parents will die before you, it was certainly not inevitable that your brother, Raoul, would die so young. I remember being at Lynne’s graveside at Aspen Grove and at that wonderful celebration at McFarland for Raoul. I read that day part of that poignant poem, that applied so closely to Raoul’s life, TO AN ATHLETE DYING YOUNG, by A.E. Houseman. When my father died in 1979, it changed my life. He had been my point person, as if on patrol, clearing out all the flak, deflecting the first sniper fire. Even though I was completely on my own and living my life, there was still a symbolic point role being played by my father. What I realized when my father died, was then I was the point person; I had to rise to a new level of responsibility and could no longer rely on him to be the leader. It is now in your hands, now that Lou is dead. You three are the new leaders as you move ahead.As baffled as Lou was by what happened to his grandson a few years ago, he anguished over the circumstances and did things to aid and assist him through and over that difficult period. He called me to voice his concerns, and we talked about how important it was for him to be there for his grandson. His magnificent grandson has emerged from that period a stronger and more whole human being, in no small part because of his grandfather’s support and acknowledgment.I believe Lou introduced our community to the notion of public art. He adorned his own lodge with the most viewed of his many unique sculptures. His work was often of heroic proportions. He and you three have perpetuated an Aspen tradition of affordable lodge rates. I would venture to guess that along with the Chalet Lisl and the St. Moritz your Main Street lodge has the most affordable and attractive nightly rates of any other tourist lodges in town. Your effort in this realm of affordability is to be applauded.Lou, Lynne, Maxwell Ailey, Elizabeth Ailey and I started the Aspen Peace Movement in the early ’80s. We were organizing in the grand tradition of Tom Benton, Tricia McKenzie, Claire Sanderson and so many other peace loving Aspenites over the years. I never had known before or since Lou, a conscientious objector from World War II. Can you even imagine the strength and courage it must have taken to stand up to the criticism and name calling for acting on such a conviction during that time, let alone the incarceration he had to suffer through? He inspired me whenever I had the chance to use the “bully pulpit” to speak for peace and against fourth of July flyovers or flags on Main St. during the first Gulf War.Lou was one tough bird. He was a free spirit and was always candid with me regarding my political stands. He never pampered me, but rather hammered me if he thought I was off course. I loved my talks with Lou. My last discussion with him was about the Iraq invasion when his long, loving companion, Catherine Garland, brought Lou over to Paul Chesley’s Northstar house, while we were celebrating Paul’s mother’s 87th birthday. He did not shy away from anything, even though Parkinson’s disease was taking its toll, and it was becoming increasingly difficult for him to talk.I am neither a horse person, an artist nor very knowledgeable about birds, but we always had a wide range of topics on our agenda. I could always count on Lynne and Lou to be an integral part of every Democratic Party gathering. I will never forget meeting four to five Democratic presidential contenders at the McFarland House one wonderful summer afternoon in 1986. Things were always abuzz at the homestead. Never a dull moment.God, I already miss him. As Wordsworth said, “bliss was it in that hour to be alive, but to be young” and to have counted Lou Wille as my friend and colleague “was very heaven.”I am thinking of you all, the Aspen community and the amazing legacy of your father’s brilliant life.Bill Stirling is a longtime Aspen resident and businessman. Soapbox runs weekly on the Sunday opinion page. This spot is a forum for valley residents to comment on local topics. If you’d like to contribute, contact Naomi Havlen at The Aspen Times at (970) 925-3414, extension 17624 or e-mail email@example.com.