Bill Tuite, 70, remembered for big heart, infectious laugh and special Aspen legacy
Bill Tuite, a man who was so well-liked he briefly served simultaneously as an Aspen councilman and a Pitkin County commissioner, died Sept. 26 at his home in Ohio. He was 70.
Friends and family remembered Tuite on Thursday as a guy who almost always had a smile on his face, possessed an infectious laugh and cared deeply about the working folks who made the upper Roaring Fork Valley tick. He was known as Billy to those closest to him.
“He was such a great man. He had a quick wit, a giant heart and a generous spirit,” said Diane Tuite, his wife of 15 years. “He was so kind and cared so deeply. I think that’s what everybody got from Billy.”
While he made his mark in public service, he also was well-known as the owner and operator of Lucci’s, an Italian restaurant below the old Cooper St. Pier bar, from 1990 to 2004.
Former Aspen City Clerk Kathryn Koch knew Tuite as a co-worker at the city and an elected official, but she said she would best remember him as the bartender at Lucci’s.
“He saw to his restaurant and loved it,” she said. Koch summed him up as a “multi-talented guy with a big heart.”
Tuite grew up in the Bronx in an Italian family and worked in New York City as an accountant. He took a ski trip to Aspen in the mid-1970s and was hooked, Diane said. He moved to the mountains and worked a variety of jobs — owning and operating a cleaning service, setting up his own accounting firm and working in the city of Aspen Finance Department.
Old-timers have a favorite story from City Hall that involved civil disobedience on Tuite’s part. When Bill Stirling became mayor in 1983 and eliminated positions of some popular city employees, Tuite started a petition drive to ban Stirling and the City Council from attending the city government’s Christmas party as a protest.
Tuite was elected as a councilman in the late 1980s and served in a tumultuous time that included community uproars that led to citizen-spurred elections over banning furs caught in leg-hold traps and the development of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel, now the St. Regis.
Tuite was elected as Pitkin County commissioner in November 1990 and served two terms of four years each before he faced the term limit in place at the time. His time as commissioner overlapped with his tenure as a councilman for about six months in 1991.
Aspen City Attorney Jim True, a former commissioner whose tenure overlapped Tuite’s for six years, said they developed a strong bond while in office.
“Tuite was always on top of all issues,” True said. “He was as friendly and jovial and intelligent as you could ask for.”
Reporters enjoyed covering the board at the time because there was rarely a dull moment with Tuite in office. He would poke fun at everyone around him without making it mean or personal. He also laughed at himself.
Paul Taddune, who worked with Tuite at the city, said Bill was famous for his one-liners. He would laugh at his own jokes so heartily that others couldn’t help but laugh.
Tuite also was part of the county board that passed some of Pitkin County’s most important legislation when it enacted Rural and Remote zoning in the 1990s. The zoning severely limits the amount and size of development in the backcountry. The county was ahead of what was certain to be a rush to build monster homes throughout the backcountry.
“He was a real strong advocate for Rural and Remote,” True said.
Tuite was subjected to a recall election because of his support for Rural and Remote, but he easily survived the challenge by a small group of angry citizens.
Tuite was a member of the Aspen Elks for 38 years and hung out with the crew at the now-defunct Little Annie’s bar and restaurant. He befriended scores of people during his years in Aspen.
“I loved the guy. I started off with him in the ’70s,” said his longtime friend Nelson “Nellie” Owen, who was aching Thursday over the loss of another good friend, as well. Nelson laughed at the memory of Tuite buying containers of Ragu sauce to feed to his big black Lab, Louie.
Tuite “had a big laugh” and looked after his friends, Nelson said.
True said that was evident at Lucci’s.
“His demeanor, his personality, his friendliness to everybody allowed him to run a restaurant,” True said. “He knew all his customers.”
When Tuite closed Lucci’s in 2004, he told The Aspen Times he had wanted to create an affordable restaurant that featured some of his family’s favorite Italian recipes — including killer eggplant Parmesan cooked by one of his aunts.
The 2000s were a time of transition for Tuite. He and Diane had mutual friends in the 1970s and ’80s, dated for a while, drifted apart for about 10 years and renewed their friendship when they met on houseboats on Lake Powell. They were married in December 2002.
“It was our time,” Diane said. “It always seemed like it was meant to be.”
They moved to Kauai in about 2004 and later moved to Ohio to be closer to her elderly mother and aunt. It was about two years ago when they last visited Aspen.
“It was a treat walking down the street with Billy because he knows everybody,” Diane said.
Tuite experienced multiple complications from diabetes over the last two years. He passed away peacefully at their home in Ohio in hospice care. Diane said her husband was a private man in many ways, so there are no plans for a memorial service. Nonetheless, lots of people hold fond memories.
“He was just one of the good guys,” Diane said. “He never knew a stranger and never turned away a friend.”
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It might be public service serving on Aspen City Council but it doesn’t pay enough, the majority of electeds say. That’s why they are proposing to give their successors a $12,000 raise.