Wilderness heroine, artist Dottie Fox dies at 86
ASPEN ” Dottie Fox, an artist and champion of wild places, died Monday morning at the age of 86 in her Old Snowmass home. A longtime local heroine, she taught at Colorado Mountain College for 18 years and mentored many in the environmental community.
“She wanted to be home, and she was. She died very peacefully in her sleep,” friend Connie Harvey said. “It was just the way she wanted. She had a terrific life and a good kind of death I’d say, too.”
Fox was born in Nebraska but considered herself a Colorado native. She arrived in Aspen in 1969 and quickly became involved in conservation work with Harvey and Joy Caudill. The three, known as the “Maroon Belles,” co-founded the Wilderness Workshop and Great Old Broads for Wilderness.
Fox had been fighting cancer for five years but continued to do the things she loved.
“She was a real free spirit,” said Wilderness Workshop Executive Director Sloan Shoemaker. “Even though she was being eaten by cancer she always had a twinkle in her eye, always had a smile, always had her spirited quips on the state of current politics or land management. Her spirit never died.”
The first words that came to the mouths of people close to Fox were “inspiration,” “fearless,” “brave” and “amazing.” Family and friends said she was connected deeply to the wild places she spent much of her life protecting; it was a connection that helped drive her powerful spirit.
The solace and grounding of wilderness, for example, helped her when her partner and fellow advocate, Murray Pope, passed away in the early 1990s.
“An hour after Murray died, I went for a hike, alone, up East Snowmass Creek,” Fox said in a 2004 interview with The Aspen Times. “And the longer I walked, the more I lost track of everything, and suddenly the wilderness began to work its magic on me, and it put things into perspective. Wilderness is where I go when I want to be renewed. It may sound corny, but to me, wilderness is like a cathedral.”
Fox, Caudill and Harvey were instrumental in widening the boundaries of the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness, and in getting both the Hunter-Fryingpan and Collegiate Peaks areas designated as wilderness. In total, they are credited with preserving more than 400,000 acres.
“I love to hike, I love to ski,” Fox said in an interview in December. “As long as I’m outside lying in a sleeping bag under the stars, I’m happy. Connie and Joy and I have all hiked and backpacked together. That’s what makes you keep doing what you’re doing, because you find out how beautiful it is.”
Caudill and Harvey both had many fond recollections of time they spent with Fox.
“She loved wide open space, whether it was mountain or desert,” Caudill said. “It was in her blood. It’s hard to find the right words because she was a very, very extraordinary person. She kept saying, ‘live in the now.’ And she did it beautifully.”
Fox’s work to preserve wilderness and the continuing work of environmental organizations she was associated with left an indelible mark on the Roaring Fork Valley.
“The natural world has lost one of its most effective and passionate defenders,” said Tim McFlynn, president of the Wilderness Workshop board of directors. “Dottie had a phenomenal amount of passion and perseverance for all things wild ” wilderness, wildlife, wild places.
“She wrote about them, defended them, started organizations to protect them,” he said. “You can see what she achieved. You can see it from outer space.”
McFlynn, Shoemaker and others spoke about Fox’s role as a mentor for many in the environmental community, keeping people focused and showing everyone how to have fun in even the most difficult situations.
“She’s always the guiding light when I’m in the thick tedium of negotiations or policy work,” Shoemaker said. “I, personally, will miss her terribly. She held us true as a compass, steered us through. I hope that she’s pleased with what we do, now that we’re carrying a torch for her.”
The Aspen Center for Environmental Studies also felt Fox’s touch when she was a trustee.
“She figured out ways to have fun doing important things,” said Cynthia Wayburn, who was on the board with Fox, and described her as a mentor and inspiration. “She had a tremendous joie de vivre, more than almost anyone I know.”
After Fox retired, members of the board pushed to make sure there was always someone with such a strong, passionate environmental voice.
“We realized we couldn’t replace Dottie, so we decided all trustees needed to pass the Dottie Fox test,” said Tom Cardamone, director of the center. “Today, all 21 trustees do their best to fill her shoes.”
Fox is survived by two daughters and two sons ” Jackie Chandler of Carbondale, Cici Kinney of Carbondale, Randy Fox of Boulder, Mark Fox of Santa Ynez, Calif. ” and many grandchildren.
Cards with remembrances can be sent to Jackie Chandler: 0442 Handy Drive, Carbondale, CO 81623. In lieu of flowers, the family has requested donations to the Wilderness Workshop: P.O. Box 1442, Carbondale, 81623.
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