Letter: We’re all better off because of Willard | AspenTimes.com

Letter: We’re all better off because of Willard

We're all better off because of Willard

Somewhere in my impenetrable files I have a copy of an editorial-style drawing of Willard Clapper with a dumb crewcut, dimples from the wide smile and a true twinkle in the eyes that appeared in The Aspen Times in the mid-1960s. In the profile that accompanied it, even then, at 13 or 14, his leadership qualities were being lauded, along with his outstanding scholastics and sports records. Frankly, it was nauseating. But thus it would always be. He was just too good to be true. Yet it was all true. Or mostly, anyway.

I don't think I ever bumped into him anywhere that he wasn't flashing that big grin — no weak-assed, trying-to-be-polite B.S. — but something so broad you could see it from across the street, even behind the cheesy moustache. And if you weren't laughing with him within a few seconds, then it was a dark day, something bad had happened, and it might take a few minutes. But you'd still end up laughing.

Of course, I never had to come up against him as part of the infamous Red Devils gang that he ran with in his youth. Or play football against him when he was part of a team that went to state championships. Or sit in a desk in his class during any of the 29 years he taught in the local school system. Or be coached by him, or deal with him when he was the Aspen Fire Department Chief or at his and A.O. Forbes' foundation, Tomorrow's Voices. Or just put up with him day in and day out the way his wife Anne did for so many years. That constant, funny, upbeat, annoying perfection? I wouldn't have lasted a week. So I know it wasn't all grins and giggles.

But that's one hell of a record of devoted service to a community he cherished. He may have been born in Leadville, but he bled Aspen and the Roaring Fork Valley, and all of us here are better off for it. It wasn't just a generalized giving back, either, but also very personal with his many friends, former classmates and students. It couldn't have always been easy for his family, and even him, that he took so much time with others. It's a rare trait, not because people are bad, but because few are as good at heart as Willard.

Well, who cares? I'm tired of hearing about him. But I suspect (and of course hope) that I'll be hearing about him for the rest of my life, because he'll always be remembered in the lives of every one of us he touched. Which isn't to say he went around touching everyone. That would be weird. Especially for a coach and teacher. But you know what I mean. Have a good rest of your journey Willard. You earned it.

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Jay Cowan

Old Snowmass