Loss of a local Aspen legend: the Su Lum story
Editor’s note: Read the complete story of Sum Lum’s life and legacy at http://www.aspentimes.com or in this week’s Aspen Times Weekly, on newsstands Thursday.
Friends and family remembered Su Lum on Monday as a fixture at The Aspen Times, a relentless and unapologetic voice for preserving Aspen’s character, and a keen observer of life who called it like she saw it — often with a strategic dose of profanity.
Lum died at Aspen Valley Hospital on Sunday at age 80 from complications of pneumonia. She had battled lung disease after smoking cigarettes for decades, stubbornly quitting a few years ago when forced by deteriorating health.
Lum grew up in New Jersey, fled to Alaska with her then-husband in 1961 and proved her mettle by homesteading there. She found her true home in 1964, after she drove over the gravel road on Independence Pass and descended into Aspen.
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“She just instantly felt like she had found her tribe,” said Skye Skinner, her daughter. “She never wanted to live anywhere else.”
Lum made her mark on the town over the next 51 years — most visibly as part of the trinity that guided The Aspen Times through the 1960s, ’70s, ’80s and into the ’90s, along with former owner and publisher Bil Dunaway and former longtime editor Mary Eshbaugh Hayes, now both deceased.
“They were fixtures. That was The Aspen Times,” said Lauren Cassatt, who worked at the newspaper from 1972 to 1993.
Former Aspen Times Editor Andy Stone said, “Su was the last of what I always considered the triumverate of the Times: Bil Dunaway, Mary Eshbaugh Hayes, Su Lum. Like those two, Su was a unique Aspen character and her passing leaves a hole — a quirky hole, like Su, small in size but enormous in impact — that can never be filled. Perhaps Aspen’s greatest loss is that there are so few left who know how much we have lost with Su’s death.”
Lum, whom Stone described as “the small, salty woman with an indomitable spirit,” worked as the advertising director and an ad rep for The Aspen Times for 46 years. She was a columnist from the early days of the Aspen Times Daily in 1989 until her death. She intended to write an installment for her “Slumming” column from her hospital room a few days before she died, Skinner said.
Memorial to be determined
Those who knew Lum best were as likely to recall her merrymaking, upbeat attitude and unique sense of humor as they were her bluntness and acerbic wit.
“She was the best boss,” said Bland Nesbit, who worked with Lum from 1980 to 1988. “We had a lot of laughs, that’s for sure.”
That included elaborate birthday parties for the ever-present band of dogs at The Aspen Times.
She was always concerned about the well-being of her daughters, Skinner and Hillery McCalister, and she was especially proud of her granddaughter Riley Burns.
The family intends to hold a remembrance of Su’s life at a later time to be determined.
“She just really lived and loved fiercely,” Skinner said. “She touched a lot of lives.”
And taking a page from her mom’s book of irreverence, Skinner added, “Hopefully, wherever she is, there’s an ashtray.”
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