Aspen native Rachel Ortega, 34, was remembered Friday as a sweet, bubbly presence with a passion for music, and a person who, in her boyfriend’s words, was “full of life and would give someone she didn’t know the shirt off her back.”
Ortega’s body was found Thursday in the Main Street residence of her boyfriend, Clayton White. White said on his Facebook page that she died in her sleep of a brain aneurysm. An autopsy was performed on Friday by the Pitkin County Coroner’s Office, which has not determined the cause of death and is awaiting toxicology results.
White, speaking from Mexico where he was vacationing, said he first fell in love with Ortega when they were both 17. Ortega was attending boarding school in Minnesota and would return to Aspen for the summers, he said.
“She went out of her way to help people, donated to charities,” White said. “She was just a wonderful person with a huge heart.”
They had talked of marriage and children, he said.
“She was pretty much my life,” White said.
Rachel Ortega was born Aug. 19, 1978, at Aspen Valley Hospital to Jan Alling and Buddy Ortega. She is survived by her parents and her brother, Dylan, with whom she was nearly inseparable, White said.
Judith Ritschard of Carbondale, a childhood friend of Ortega’s, said that while she and her friends all went through the usual middle-school awkwardness, Ortega embraced the phase, retaining her confidence and running for treasurer on the student body council. She won by a landslide, Ritschard said.
Ortega ran “an amazing campaign,” she said. “She was not afraid to be in the spotlight.”
The two also bonded over long bus trips for volleyball matches — Ritschard said her friend was very athletic — making up silly songs to pass the time through snowstorms.
“She was definitely a very funny person,” Ritschard said. “She was caring toward her friends and not afraid to speak her mind.”
Ritschard said she also remembered Ortega’s parents as “awesome,” welcoming as many as nine girls over for slumber parties.
“It’s especially tragic when you lose someone who made up so much of your childhood,” Ritschard said. “There are so many good memories.”
White said he and Ortega drifted apart after high school. But a shared passion for Widespread Panic brought them together again this past winter, when he saw her in line outside of the Belly Up to buy tickets for the jam band’s local shows.
They clicked immediately, he said, with White visiting her often in Denver before she moved in with him in Aspen.
“She was an old flame reignited,” White said.
He described White as gorgeous, but said what truly attracted him to her was her understanding of the chronic pain that he is in. The pain stems from a car accident a few years ago, White said, and Ortega was empathetic because she, too, had been in a car wreck, one that necessitated facial reconstruction surgery.
“She understands chronic pain, and not many people do,” he said.
Besides Widespread Panic — both had attended more than 300 shows, White said — she loved “The Hunger Games” trilogy, to the point that she broke her Kindle after repeatedly re-reading the books.
White said he was able to procure hard-to-get tickets for himself and Ortega to go to the Dominican Republic, where Widespread Panic is playing in late January.
They planned to fly back to Charleston, S.C., a city they planned to move to from Aspen. After their accidents, neither were enjoying the local cold winters, he said.
“We just had a lot of plans,” White said.
He said his fiancee-to-be was a lively person who was never in a bad mood.
“She put other people before herself,” White said. “That’s the gist of who she was.”