Jack Hatfield, environmentalist and music lover, dies at age 72
Jack Hatfield, a man who helped shape upper-valley politics and environmentalism for more than 25 years and was a passionate music lover, died Friday at age 72.
Hatfield was a fixture at Labor Day music festivals and the Thursday night concerts at Snowmass Village. He also was a central figure in the boardrooms of the Snowmass Village Town Council and Pitkin County commissioners from 1994 until his retirement from politics in 2012.
Hatfield died at his home in Snowmass Village on Friday morning after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in March, according to Ruth Hatfield, Jack’s wife of 38 years and partner for 45 years. Ruth said Hospice of the Valley played an invaluable role in helping Jack’s transition.
Hatfield will probably be best remembered as a voice for wildlife and the outdoors. He spearheaded efforts as a citizen activist to limit Aspen Skiing Co.’s ski-area expansion onto Burnt Mountain. Later as an elected official, he aggressively promoted the purchase and preservation of the Droste property as open space at the entrance to Snowmass Village. That property is now Sky Mountain Park.
“He was a hero to a lot of people in the valley. He was my hero,” said his longtime friend and former Snowmass Village Mayor Bill Boineau.
Hatfield expressed the positions that were important to a lot of people on various issues, many involving the environment, he said.
They became friends while serving in the mid-1990s as councilmen. While they often held different views, they discussed their positions without making it personal. Their civic service fueled a friendship that lasted for decades.
Jack and Ruth met in West Palm Beach, Florida, in the 1970s at a bar called Born Free. One of their first dates was a Joe Walsh concert.
“Music has always been his love and the common bond between us,” Ruth said Sunday morning from her home. “He loved rock and roll and most music — anything that would make you move.”
They rarely missed the outdoor concerts at Snowmass and Jack even made it to one of the shows this summer despite his fight with cancer.
“So many people missed him at the concerts this year,” Ruth said.
His bout with cancer wasn’t widely known. Jack was a very private person and didn’t want people treating him differently because of his fight, she said.
Boineau said it will be difficult attending the Labor Day festival without his longtime friend. For years, they would show up hours early at the general admission entrance at the music venue and wait for the gate to open so they could stake out their turf by laying out tarps.
“We’d make the dash in together to get the seats we wanted,” Boineau said. “He won’t be there in person (this year) but he will be there in spirit.”
Hatfield moved to the Roaring Fork Valley in November 1976, but didn’t want to force Ruth into making a hasty decision. She helped move him out, then returned to Florida. She returned to the mountains for good the next February and they have been inseparable ever since.
Although he was born in New York state and raised in Florida since age 7, he discovered his heart was in the mountains.
“This was his love — the nature and the forest instead of the concrete,” Ruth said.
He was an avid skier and climbed all the fourteener in the state before peak bagging surged in popularity. He also rock climbed in Castle Valley outside of Moab. The Hatfields camped a lot and loved to travel.
Jack started in construction and got to know homeowners who asked him to look after their property. That spurred him to start his own property management company, Jack’s Resort Services. He was mostly retired in recent years but still handled a few condos.
In the late 1980s, Hatfield became concerned about Skico’s potential development of Burnt Mountain, a divisive debate in the community, as well as other issues in the upper valley.
“Somebody said, ‘If you don’t like it, get involved.’ He never looked back,” Ruth said.
That triggered heavy-duty political involvement that lasted until 2013. After losing by one vote for election to the Snowmass Village Town Council in 1992, he successfully ran in 1994 and served two terms for a total of eight years. He served on the Snowmass Village Water and Sanitation District and was appointed to the volunteer Pitkin County Planning and Zoning Commission.
Hatfield won election three times as a Pitkin County commissioner, serving from 2001 to 2013.
In a Dec. 15, 2012, interview with The Aspen Times, Hatfield said at one point during his political career he was both the most loved and most hated person in Snowmass Village. People who didn’t want to buck the establishment on development issues for personal or professional reasons loved him for speaking up. The real estate sales and development industry and Skico brass at the time reviled him for being so vehemently opposed to development at Burnt Mountain and Snowmass Base Village.
Activism might have been inevitable for him. A picture of a long-haired Hatfield flashing a peace sign amid a student protest during his days at Florida State University graces the cover of the book, “The Tumultuous Sixties: Campus Unrest and Student Life at a Southern University.”
Ruth said Jack didn’t like to toot his own horn or make a big deal of his actions. However, he was proud of recognition given by the Colorado Division of Wildlife, now Colorado Parks and Wildlife. Upon retirement, the wildlife agency presented Hatfield with an elk statute and plaque that thanked him for his unwavering support for wildlife.
In a 2012 exit interview with The Aspen Times, Hatfield said his actions over three terms as a county commissioner were guided by three principles: a strong environmental ethic, fiscal conservancy and an unwillingness to compromise his values.
“I’m a protector — protector of our community, protector of our environment, protector of our character and quality of life,” he said.
He also said he wasn’t a “fence sitter,” which was an understatement.
“Jack was relentless once he got something going,” Ruth said. But once a decision was made, he was able to put it behind him. “He never held a grudge. He moved on,” she added.
His political positions resulted in the loss of some friends, but Jack shrugged it off.
“He felt so proud of what he did for the community,” Ruth said.
Patti Clapper, chairwoman of the Pitkin Board of County Commissioners, said the board will talk Tuesday how to honor Hatfield.
“He was the voice of wildlife on any and all issues that came by us,” Clapper said. “Jack was something special. We have to honor him.”
Ruth said Jack had hoped to be able to return to Florida this week to visit his mother for her 92nd birthday. They had airline reservations Thursday. Ruth said she’s going to make that trip for Jack. When she returns she will finalize arrangements for a memorial service.
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