Letter: Kirkwood had healthy impact on Aspen

My longtime friend, June Kirkwood, died toward the end of last year. She was a resident of Heritage, in Carbondale, for most of the past three years. Unfortunately, I missed the celebration of her life on Dec. 28, when so many Aspenites paid homage to her astonishing influence on us for over six decades to pursue a healthy lifestyle.

I happened to be visiting her the evening of her death. Her children told me she had not talked for days, and it was not clear if she recognized visitors or family. Her daughter suggested that I give her a kiss. I did, and lo and behold, June pressed her lips back against mine. I do not know if she knew or recognized me, but I do know she responded. She was dead barely two hours later. It was a very real and touching moment.

June inspired many of us in Aspen to become conscious of what we put into our bodies. I think I first heard from her the words, “Our body is our temple.” I met her in the mid ’70s, when she and Nina Johnston were partners in probably Aspen’s first health food store and restaurant on Pope Roland’s corner at East Hyman and Spring. I was not a vegetarian then but was beginning to become particular about what I ate and where and how the food had been grown.

I got to know her better in the mid ’80s, when monthly vegetarian dinners were held at different homes. June was the common denominator and the chief cook and bottle washer at these movable feasts. Locals generously opened their homes to June and her band of hungry friends, seeking a different way to eat. We all paid a modest tariff for this rare chance outside our own homes to eat organic, vegetarian food and have protein sources without a face. It was a wonderful opportunity to meet and get to know others in town who were like-minded.

I became a vegetarian in 1984 for health reasons, when my late wife, Katharine Thalberg, had contracted breast cancer. Becoming a vegetarian was part of the protocol of the renowned Livingston Center in San Diego, which was an alternative day clinic, and cancer treatment center. It closed in late 2004, after the Matriarch and founder, Dr. Virginia Livingston, died. Katharine’s strong, admirable life for most of the next 22 years, before dying in 2006, was attributable to the Livingston Clinic’s innovative protocols, especially vegetarianism. The Livingston Center worked hand in glove with the standard medical practitioners in order to broaden the choices for people not satisfied with traditional medical practices. I continue to be a vegetarian for my ongoing good health, protection of the environment and as a statement for animal rights.

In no small part, June’s influence on Katharine inspired her to open the only vegetarian restaurant in Aspen in 1989, the Explore Bistro. Now the current entrepreneur, Martin Oswald, of the Pyramid Bistro in that same space, is an enlightened devotee of presenting complex and delicious food, including wild fish and free-range chicken, which is organic, local and nutritional. Sabrina Rudin, the health-conscious founder and owner of the new Spring Cafe at Spring and East Hopkins, a vegan restaurant, hired Blanca Salas, who cooked at the Explore Bistro for over 10 years, to be her head chef. As a young girl, Sabrina often ate at the Explore Bistro, and was also strongly influenced by her health-conscious mother. I will bet there are not many communities with only 6,000 residents, which have two such superb, healthy, and vegetable-based restaurants. I would say these are both attributable in no small part to the courage and influence of both pioneers, Katharine Thalberg and June Kirkwood.

June was ahead of her time. She challenged so many of us to become more discriminating and careful about our food choices. She was a prophet in her own home town, which is not always easy. She was diminutive physically, but an articulate spokesperson and a power house of energy. She was always challenging us and introducing new ideas about food preparation and forever extoling the virtues of a holistic diet. She had such a powerful influence on my life, and it is a joy to plan my daily meals with my wonderful girl friend, Barbara Bussell, though not a vegetarian, a great proponent of eating free range, healthy food. She has asked me on more than one occasion, “Bill, do shrimp and scallops have faces?” June in no small way has influenced the burgeoning local, organic food movement throughout the Roaring Fork Valley.

She was a giant of a person. We all pay tribute to her.

Bill Stirling


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