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So damn sorry to be correct

Andy Stone

Twelve years ago this month, Elizabeth Paepcke died.At the time, I was editor of The Aspen Times Daily. My boss, the Times’ publisher and editor in chief, was Loren Jenkins – a brilliant, demanding, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who, though often abrasive, was exactly what the newspaper needed at the time.The week that Mrs. Paepcke died, I wrote an editorial for the Daily about her intelligence and courage, and her importance to Aspen. Loren, meanwhile, was writing a much longer essay on Mrs. Paepcke for the front page of the Weekly edition.I filed my editorial, and a little while later, Loren came by to tell me he’d changed my conclusion. That was, of course, absolutely his right – he was the boss and, more than that, he was way ahead of me at the journalism game. Loren explained that he’d made the change because my conclusion about the impact of Mrs. Paepcke’s death was in some ways the opposite of his.I accepted his changes without question – as I said, he was the boss – but now, a dozen years later, it occurs to me that I was right and he was wrong.And, boy, am I sorry about that.Loren and I had both written about what a wonderful woman Mrs. Paepcke had been. We wrote about how, in her final decades, she had been able to stand tall as the conscience of Aspen. Mrs. Paepcke, with her husband, Walter, (and arguably she even more than he) had been responsible for Aspen’s rebirth, not just as a ski resort, but as a center for art and culture and music, and philosophical and intellectual pursuits. Her accomplishments had given her the right to speak with strong moral authority. It was at this point that my thinking and Loren’s had diverged. And amazingly, my position was a little more cynical than his.He had written that Mrs. Paepcke would, of course, be deeply missed, but that her spirit and her legacy would continue to guide Aspen through the years to come.I, on the other hand, had concluded that now, without her moral authority to guide us, Aspen would have to learn to stand on its own. In effect, I said, “Mommy’s gone. It’s time to grow up.” I wrote that Aspen had a true challenge ahead, one that could be met only with courage and strength of character.And I expressed cautious hope that Aspen would be up to the challenge.As I said, Loren rewrote my conclusion to match up with his more optimistic one – since his optimism was the official editorial position of The Aspen Times on this particular issue.But now, thinking back, I realize that I was right – and that Aspen seems to be failing the challenge I envisioned.Perhaps I should have realized, some years ago, that the wanton destruction of the very home that Mrs. Paepcke lived in and died in was a true sign of things to come – and not merely a unique monument to a rich kid’s ego.But certainly now it seems clear that Aspen is being wracked by a wave of exactly the kind of small-minded, tasteless destructiveness that Mrs. Paepcke loathed. It is a wave of destruction fueled, as ever, by money and ego and greed.And it is a wave that seems to have overwhelmed our city government, which appears weak and fumbling – and without any sense of moral authority.Elizabeth Paepcke was not awed by the rich – because she was rich. She could not be flattered by invitations to “A-list” parties – because there was no invitation more flattering than one to her home.Elizabeth Paepcke handled wealth and beauty with class and intelligence. Aspen has wealth and beauty, but it seems that we have failed to develop leadership based on the kind of class and intelligence that are so desperately necessary.Elizabeth Paepcke is gone, and no one, it seems, can stand up, speak simple clear truth and insist that Aspen is more than just a profit opportunity.It is, quite simply, a failure of character.Andy Stone is former editor of The Aspen Times. His e-mail address is andy@aspentimes.com.


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