Letter: No strings attached
November 25, 2015
With the passing of Mary Jane Garth last week, Aspen lost one of its most remarkable and generous women of the past half-century. As her obituary detailed, she was a longtime living symbol of the maxim that "From those to whom much is given, much is expected." Her support for everything from Aspen Valley Hospital to all of the arts was inspirational and too often unremarked, as with many of her friends, because it was just what they were supposed to do: Rich people are supposed to give.
However, many of them don't give at all. And if they do, it's only to whoever can help them politically, socially or with their business. But Mary Jane didn't attach any strings to her giving and didn't just donate to those whose friendship she wanted to curry. On a personal level, she gave just as freely and unreservedly. I saw her reach out and help time and again in every direction — not just cutting checks and giving to faceless organizations but working hands-on to help friends, neighbors, the hospital blue ladies, her church, those who worked for her and those whose lives touched hers.
During all the years I knew her, she was unfailingly supportive and kind to me, even though there were good reasons not to be. We never agreed on politics. When she once led a recall effort against Mick Ireland, I strongly opposed it. But I admired that she did what she did when many of her wealthy friends urged her on while staying in the shadows. The county commissioners weren't people you wanted to get on the wrong side of if you had projects planned that required their approval. That was the case for Mary Jane, and she paid the price for it, but the fact that she stood up anyway always impressed me.
Though she was fully engaged philanthropically and politically in the community, her real passions were like many in Aspen: the outdoors, her ranch, skiing and art. Always art. I was maybe 20 when I first saw her legendary collection. I loved art, had artists on both sides of my family and wanted to think I knew something about it. I didn't. But as I lived with Harriet Garth, I got to learn from her mother just by her example and taste as much as anything. It was a fantastic education to be in the presence of someone with her knowledge of, and true fascination with, art through and through.
And Mary Jane also gave great parties. She and many of her Grande Dame close friends could out-party anyone in a town internationally famous for getting down. They entertained grandly and all-encompassingly, invited everyone and were invited everywhere. And it wasn't easy. They lived for it, they trained for it, and they could do half a dozen events and more on big nights without getting sloppy or tiresome. Now that's a woman.
This community will miss Mary Jane Garth very much.
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