Tom Stone takes his last ride: Former Eagle County commissioner built a better life for local families, friends say
- Tom Stone Freedom Riders Memorial Scholarship Fund The family has requested that instead of flowers, send donations to the Douglas County Sherriff’s Mounted Posse, PO Box 1894, Minden, NV, 89423, or through PayPal. Information on the link to PayPal will be posted on the official social media page at: https://www.facebook.com/Douglas-County-Sheriffs-Battle-Born-Mounted-Posse-110917543976298.
- The scholarship fund will help support young people seeking a career in law enforcement or agriculture, military veterans and first responders.
- Information is still being finalized about a celebration of Stone’s life.
Tom Stone’s last ride might have been his favorite because he wasn’t supposed to do it. Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak limited July 4 celebrations. This is America, Stone reasoned, a nation born from civil disobedience.
So, Stone led more than a dozen horseback riders from the Battle Born Mounted Posse on a July 4 ride through Minden, Nevada. Carrying American flags, Blue Line flags supporting law enforcement, and red, white and blue streamers, they rode right down U.S. Highway 395 through the middle of town as thousands smiled, honked and waved their support.
You’ve heard of Stone. He served two memorable terms as an Eagle County Commissioner ending in 2006. If you live in affordable housing in Eagle County, attend classes or events at Colorado Mountain College’s Vail Valley campus, play in Freedom Park or Basalt’s Crown Mountain Park, or take a commercial flight through the Eagle County Regional Airport, former County Commissioner Stone had a positive influence on your life.
Stone, 67, died after that July 4 final ride at his home in Genoa, Nevada, where he and Henri, his wife of 47 years, relocated.
“Just look around at what he and Mike Gallagher accomplished, the impact they had and still have on the valley today, the economy, the housing and school buildings available for the community,” said Buddy Sims with the local VFW.
Running for Eagle County commissioner was Henri Stone’s idea. She came home from a political committee meeting and announced to her husband that she had nominated him to run. He certainly didn’t do it for the money. When Stone first took office in January 1999, county commissioners were paid between $30,000 and $40,000 a year. They’re paid $94,500 now.
Connecting the pieces of the deal
Most people have gifts. Stone’s was seeing pieces of deals floating around, and how those pieces should fit together.
Gallagher migrated to Wellington, Colorado, after his doctor suggested living at a lower elevation. He succeeded James Johnson and worked with Stone for four years and nine months.
“We grew to have an excellent working relationship and a wonderful friendship that included then-county commissioner Jack Ingstad. We both understood that you could get a whole lot more done if you don’t care who gets the credit,” Gallagher said.
Between them they rolled up Miller Ranch, Roaring Fork Transit Authority expansion, and took many trips to Washington, D.C. to land funding for the Eagle County Airport expansion.
“We worked for what was good for the people, for the county, not what was good for anyone politically,” Gallagher said. “It paid off.”
Not long after Stone was sworn in as a county commissioner, local developer Fred Green announced that Riverview Apartments in EagleVail were for sale. The county bought it as the valley’s only dedicated low-income housing project at the time.
A few months later on a sunny late winter afternoon, Stone led the county back to the closing table, working with fellow commissioners James Johnson and Johnnette Phillips to hammer out a deal with 11 government entities for the county to buy what was then called the Berry Creek Fifth Filing, 110 acres in Edwards. It’s now Miller Ranch and Freedom Park with space for the valley’s Colorado Mountain College campus. The Eagle County School District bought the adjoining 110 acres and put Battle Mountain High School there. When it came time to put the deal together, Stone, who had been a real estate agent for decades, just sat down and wrote the contract that everyone signed on that afternoon.
“Tom was instrumental in so many of the positive changes in Eagle County,” Phillips said.
Stone was among the first to understand that airports are holes in the sky through which money falls. He helped put together the deal for the county to take over commercial airline service from the Vail Valley Jet Center.
There was the time model airplanes flew throughout the Eagle County Regional Airport terminal as crowds celebrated the county’s new terminal. That was part of a massive airport expansion. Stone convinced his friend, former Sen. Ben Nighthorse-Campbell, to funnel federal dollars for the airport’s control tower and instrument landing system, and to extend the runway.
While he loved building big, ambitious things, his favorite projects were personal. He helped launch Eagle County’s Youth Conservation Corps that pays members of local youth organizations to work on outdoor projects. At the other end of that demographic spectrum, he led the county’s efforts to buy and expand the Golden Eagle Senior Apartments.
“He was very involved with Eagle County’s seniors. He even played Santa Claus one Christmas,” Phillips said.
On September 11, 2001, terrorists flew a commercial airliner into the Pentagon, blowing huge blocks of limestone out of the five-sided building. Stone and fellow county commissioner Michael Gallagher worked with Sims, a retired Air Force Lt. Colonel called back to active duty after the attacks, to bring a block of Pentagon limestone back to Colorado. It’s part of a permanent display honoring military veterans and first responders in Freedom Park.
He served six years on the Colorado River District board, battling to keep Western Slope water on the Western Slope. Stone made numerous trips to Washington, D.C. to testify on wilderness and national forest issues.
“He was a great guy who did wonderful service for the country and the county,” former Rep. Scott McInnis said. “He was a good man. He was a commissioner when I was in congress. He was a straight shooter and I enjoyed our relationship. He had the ability to communicate with folks.”
Lightning and lightning rods
Stone was many things — political leader, firebrand and lightening rod.
If Stone and Gallagher were a political John Lennon and Paul McCartney, for six years Stone and former Eagle County Commissioner Arn Menconi crackled like oil and water in a hot skillet. Time provides perspective, Menconi said, and they put their differences aside.
“Tom was a visionary who focused on building. Most of all he focused on building a better future for Eagle County families,” Menconi said, adding that when his children were young they often played in Basalt’s Crown Mountain Park, one of Stone’s many causes.
Menconi is advocating for the Eagle River Center in the Eagle County Fairgrounds to be renamed The Stone Center.
Stone did all that while raising a family: sons Lance and Jeremiah and daughter Brittne-Aspen. He taught Lance to ride motorcycles, taught Jeremiah, who became a talented ski racer, to ski, and supported Brittne as she became a world class gymnast. Through it all, they made time to go horse camping and many other family adventures.
Stone graduated from the National Outdoor Leadership School in Lander, Wyoming, and earned his degree in Environmental Management from Fort Lewis College in Durango.
While Stone taught his grandchildren to ride bicycles and ski, his wife taught them to ride horses.
Friends in Eagle County know what a huge step it was for Stone to ride anything. A year or so after his second county commissioner term ended, he was riding his Harley Davidson Road King, which Henri bought him for his 50th birthday, with a group headed up Highway 131 north of Wolcott. Ironically they were part of a motorcycle safety session. He had been riding motorcycles since he was 10 years old, but he hit a deer that jumped into his path. He woke up in the hospital with a concussion, a broken collarbone, broken shoulder blade, seven broken ribs and a punctured lung. Both the Road King and the deer died. Stone lived to ride again, and again and again.