Pfister’s friends and family recall her as a ‘bright light’

by Andrew Travers, Aspen Daily News Staff Writer
Friends and family remembered Nancy Pfister on Friday as a gregarious and irreplaceable individual, whose absence will leave a hole in the fabric of the Aspen community.

Pfister, 57, was found dead in her West Buttermilk home on Wednesday. Her death is the subject of an ongoing homicide investigation (see related story).

One of three daughters of Art and Betty Pfister, who co-created the Buttermilk ski area, the lifelong Aspenite was known for her larger-than-life personality, her ready smile, and her remarkable social acuity.

“People say there are seven wonders of the world but I believe Nancy was the eighth,” said her sister Christina Pfister. “She was a force of nature.”

After graduating from high school, Pfister left Aspen to study at the Pratt Institute in New York, before setting out for extensive travels in Africa, India and Nepal.

Her passions ranged from traveling to art and writing, from gardening to permaculture to dousing pendulums. Friends agreed she was proud of her Aspen roots, but most proud to be a mother.

“She carried a bright light within her,” said her daughter, Juliana Pfister. “Sometimes it was so bright it was hard to understand. It was like she wasn’t even really from this world. It was so embracing and otherworldly.”

Christina Pfister said that “the greatest gift that Nancy gave to us is her daughter — beautiful, elegant and poised.”

Bob Braudis, a former Pitkin County sheriff, befriended Nancy Pfister more than 40 years ago. He counted himself among scores, and generations, of Aspenites who came here from elsewhere and found a friend, surrogate family member, and matchmaker in Nancy Pfister.

“She was a catalyst for people here,” Braudis said. “If somebody moved to Aspen, Nancy was a natural at figuring out who they should be introduced to. I know many of those introductions that have lasted 20, 30 years as friendships.”

Added her daughter: “She loved being a connection for people. I know a lot of people who are married and she introduced them. She had a really big heart.”

In Aspen and beyond, her circle of friends was unbound by socio-economic or cultural differences. A passionate world traveler, she sought out beaches and natural beauty from Hawaii to Santa Fe, N.M. to the Caribbean and Australia — baffling friends and family by often making her way without a visa or passport — and living abroad in Bali and Thailand.

 Anita Thompson/Special to the Aspen Daily News
Nancy Pfister at the Grand Junction airport during one of her many travels.

Permaculture and environmental issues also were a driving passion for her, dating back to the early days of the environmental movement — motivating much of her travel.

A mountain girl at heart, she was an animal lover with dogs often at her side — including her old German shepherd, Stella, and her labradoodle, Gabe. Traveling with Pfister, her friend Anita Thompson recalled, she would seek out open spaces, wide views and natural experiences. At summertime gatherings, she was known to slip off her shoes to walk — or dance or frolic — barefoot in the grass.

She managed to befriend royalty and service industry workers alike, leaving impressions on communities around the world. Christina Pfister, recalled how often, to her surprise, she’s found people who knew her sister in far-flung locales around the globe.

“I would travel the world and, inevitably, when I would say to people, ‘I’m from Aspen,’ they would say, ‘Oh, then you must know Nancy Pfister,” she recalled on Friday. “And then some fabulous or hysterical story would ensue.”

Nancy Pfister carried herself with an infectious joy, friends agreed, in good times and in bad.

“She always found something to rejoice about and life in general was something she rejoiced in,” said Braudis.

Playful and free-spirited, known to raise a glass of Veuve Clicquot and cook a delicious vegetarian frittata, Nancy Pfister’s friends spoke of her as a kind soul who offered support without reservation.

“She was the kind of person that this community might take for granted, because her friendship was just always there for you,” said Thompson. “There are so many people that will miss that.”

Nancy Pfister also was close with Thompson’s husband, the late author Hunter S. Thompson, and his circle in Woody Creek and beyond.

“She was an integral member of Hunter’s extended family,” said Douglas Brinkley, the historian who befriended Nancy Pfister while working with Thompson, and who she visited at Rice University in Houston this past fall.

“She was an effervescent and warm person who loved Aspen and was most proud of being a mother,” he added.

Her social gifts and her ability to cultivate a wide circle of friends, Christina Pfister said, were handed down by her father. She said her sister had the same flirtatious way about her that left others feeling better about themselves.

“She was one of the most gregarious and vivacious women,” she said, “following in her father’s footsteps of never knowing a stranger.”

(Nelson Harvey contributed to this report).