Lay made Aspen a home away from home |

Lay made Aspen a home away from home

Chase Squires
Pat Sullivan/AP file photoEnron founder Kenneth Lay leaves the courthouse after the first day of closing arguments in his fraud and conspiracy trial May 15, in Houston.

ASPEN ” When Kenneth Lay was indicted in the Enron scandal two years ago, Michael Cleverly set up a donation jar at the Woody Creek Tavern just up the road from Aspen. He recalls the gallon-sized glass jar eventually collected “a lot of non-cash items.”

“It’s kind of a tradition when the wealthy get in a jam in Woody Creek, we try to help them out,” Cleverly said Wednesday with a chuckle.

The bar eventually presented the “Ken Lay Defense Fund” jar to Lay and his wife, Linda, and Cleverly said they good-naturedly accepted it.

Lay died early Wednesday after being taken to a hospital from a home in Old Snowmass, a few miles north of this posh resort town. I.V. Pabst, listed in public records as the owner of the house, declined to confirm whether she was renting to the Lays but called his death a blow.

“Ken was a wonderful, kindhearted, generous neighbor, friend and father,” she said, fighting back tears as she turned reporters away at the end of her driveway. “In my humble opinion, he was sorely maligned by a bunch of people who didn’t know who he was.”

The Lays had long ago sold their property in Pitkin County, which surrounds Aspen and boasts some of the most expensive real estate in the world.

A six-bedroom home at 165 Shady Lane was sold for $10 million back in 2002 just days after Lay resigned from Enron’s board and the last property ” a four-bedroom home ” went for $5.2 million three years ago.

“I think they’ve sold everything that they owned,” Deputy Assessor Larry Fite said.

Still, the Lays were frequent visitors to Aspen. And while Lay was facing potentially the rest of his life in prison for the Enron fraud, the conditions of his $5 million bond allowed him to stay either in south Texas or Colorado until his October sentencing.

“He loved being here,” Pabst said. “He was happy, happy, happy.”

Judy Clauson, director of advancement for the Anderson Ranch Arts Center in Snowmass Village, said Lay was a donor dating back at least to 1993.

“He would send us $5,000 for a benefit dinner and then say, ‘I don’t need any tickets, it’s a gift,”‘ she said. “It was just pure philanthropy, just not the picture the public has of him.”

Officials with the Aspen Music School also praised Lay for his generosity. Terry Lee, the former director of development for the Colorado Rocky Mountain School, said Lay gave $500 to the boarding school in 2005 in memory of Harald Pabst, a former school trustee.

The rich and famous have always been able to enjoy a low profile in Aspen, be it tennis star Martina Navratilova or the late journalist Hunter S. Thompson. Cleverly, 59, said residents here have a way of treating the wealthy with polite indifference.

“Generally speaking, you treat these people with more courtesy than they may get in other parts of the world and give them more privacy,” Cleverly said. “This would be a very good place for someone like Ken Lay to hide out and not get bothered.”

Cleverly, who has lived in the area for more than 30 years, said that while full-time residents may have political or philosophical views about the Enron scandal, they probably weren’t personally affected by the company’s collapse.

That probably made it easier for Lay to be accepted in Colorado than in Texas, he said.

At the Woody Creek Tavern, Mindy Brown of Houston said she used to see Lay in Texas.

“He was more out there and visible here,” said Brown, who has a second home in the Aspen area.

Jimmy Ibbotson, a former guitarist for Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, said Lay came in the tavern often and sat at a table with his wife.

“We were polite enough not to bring up the (expletive) thing he did to all those thousands of people,” Ibbotson said. “He’d come in and see us laughing and having a good time. I got the feeling he wanted that. I think he wanted to fit in, and we would have let him if he had given all that money back.”

Associated Press Writers Jon Sarche, Sandy Shore and Melissa Trujillo contributed to this report from Denver.

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