Aspen resident Jeff Walker was remembered on Monday for his passion for life, music, fine wine and food, and having a good time with the many people he had developed friendships with since moving here in 1992.
More than 300 people attended a memorial service at the Aspen Chapel for Walker, whose body was found in an out-of-bounds area near Highland Bowl. His disappearance earlier this month launched an 11-day community-wide search before his body was found last week.
Family members and friends filled the two-hour-long service with poems and favorite memories of Walker, 55.
Hundreds of people including locals, Mountain Rescue Aspen (MRA) volunteers, ski patrollers and Pitkin County Sheriffs deputies spent two weeks scouring Aspen Highlands for signs of Walker, who was last seen on March 7 hiking the bowl. He was discovered by a snowboarder on March 20 in a heavily wooded area. The cause of death was a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
During Monday’s service, Walker’s family thanked the Aspen community for everyone’s help in the search and for their support.
“I wanted to speak to you because, like our small family, you were Jeff’s family and you were Jeff’s community,” said Walker’s sister, Karie Walker. “You meant a lot to Jeff and we wanted you all to know that. Our family wants to thank all of you for taking us in, holding us up and doing the hard job of finding Jeff and bringing him off the mountain.”
She thanked the volunteers, the staff at Out of Bounds restaurant, Pitkin County Sheriff Joe DiSalvo and his deputies, MRA, Highlands Ski Patrol and the Aspen Skiing Co. team for following up on every clue, hint and crazy lead the family suggested in the search for Walker.
“We want you to know that we love you and we consider you all family,” she said. “Jeff said he would never leave Aspen and now we know he never will. I think it’s proper.”
She gave a brief description of her brother through tears. Everything Walker decided to do he did well, but he was still humble and generous, she said. He never met a stranger because he befriended everybody.
“I think this is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do,” she said. “I dreaded thinking about what I was going to say because it meant that I had to accept that Jeff was gone and it’s so hard.”
Walker’s youngest sister, Holly Walker, stood beside Karie for support and picked up where she left off.
As a child, Walker spoiled Holly because she was the youngest, she said. On her 10th birthday, Walker took Holly to her first Grateful Dead show. When Holly asked Walker what she should do at the show, he smiled.
“‘Oh Holly-by-Golly, you twirl,’” Holly recalled him saying. “And I twirled 25 more years with that man.”
Walker was a golden man, whose light shined brightly, Holly said. Now that he is gone, the world will not be as bright. Through tears, Holly recited the lyrics to the Grateful Dead song “Ripple,” which then played on the chapel’s sound system in Walker’s honor.
Walker, a wine consultant who had been a sommelier at Piñons, was heavily involved in the restaurant industry in Aspen.
Rob Mobilian, owner of Piñons and a longtime friend, recalled 24 hours he spent with Walker traveling to New Zealand where they were embarking on a two-week cruise.
The trip began with a 14-hour flight where they had seats in first class thanks to Walker’s connections. It happened to be Walker’s birthday so they celebrated by drinking all of the finest bottles of wine on the plane. When everyone in the first-class cabin went to sleep, Walker and Mobilian headed into coach offering passengers wine tastings. Predictably, the fight attendants loved Walker and let him do it, Mobilian said.
Leaving the airport, Mobilian said he wondered what it would be like to drive on the other side of the street. The next thing he knew, Walker had talked their cab driver into letting Mobilian drive.
Only Walker could pull those kinds of things off, Mobilian said with a laugh.
The rest of the trip included a bike ride through wine country, a free five-course gourmet dinner at a winery and a sailboat race. All of that happened in one day before the cruise. Those kinds of action-packed days were typical in Walker’s life, Mobilian noted.
While touring wine country, the pair came across a field of garlic cloves. Walker laid down and began doing snow angels.
“I remember just standing there, picturing it, the beauty of it,” Mobilian said. “It was so Walker, so awesome.”
Walker loved eating good meals and drinking fine wines, Mobilian said. His love for the outdoors is what kept him in Aspen and Walker always said “Ya know, it doesn’t suck to be us.” Walker taught Mobilian to live life to the fullest, he said.
“He taught us how to live and that is why this situation is so perplexing to all of us,” Mobilian said. “To me Walker was so alive, but Jeff always did things his way. He was the author of his own life story and none of us was able to write the ending.”
Walker told Mobilian he loved him the night before he took his own life, and Mobilian said he has made peace with his friend. Still, there’s a lesson to be learned from Walker’s story, Mobilian said.
Somehow Walker didn’t believe that he had support. He didn’t know that his friends were strong enough to help him and didn’t judge him. Walker was very private and like anyone, very complicated, he said. Still, Mobilian will always wonder why Walker chose not to ask for help.
“I wish he had,” Mobilian said.
Ultimately, the community should not let Walker’s death define his life, but people should remember him for his spirit and generosity while ensuring nothing like this happens again in the future, Mobilian said.
“I stand here celebrating the man we knew in all the ways he made us smile,” he said. “But I also stand here as someone who’s trying to learn something and make sure I’m not standing here ever again because I wasn’t clear ... Make sure that you let those we love know that they are unconditionally loved and accepted and that they are safe with us. We love you Jeff and we will always remember.”