Vail original Paul Johnston’s celebration of life is scheduled for Saturday |

Vail original Paul Johnston’s celebration of life is scheduled for Saturday

Paul Johnston's celebration of life is scheduled for 10:30 a.m., Saturday in the Vail Interfaith Chapel.
Special to the Daily |

Celebrate Paul Johnston

A celebration of Paul Johnston’s life is scheduled for 10:30 a.m. Saturday in the Vail Interfaith Chapel. A reception will follow.

Paul Ross Johnston, former mayor of Vail and owner of the Christiania Lodge, peacefully hung up his boots March 16.

Paul was a soldier and peace activist, a painter and an author, an art dealer and a Realtor, a cowboy and a bartender, a pilot and a motocross rider, a hospice volunteer and an ecumenical minister. Most of all he was the most gentle, generous and selfless man we have ever known.

Born in Oklahoma City in 1933, Paul was a state champion track star in high school who studied business and played football at University of Oklahoma under Bud Wilkinson. It was only fitting that Paul became a Sooner since his grandfather made the initial run into Oklahoma in 1893. Paul married his college sweetheart, Mitzie, joined the U.S. Army after graduation and was stationed in Germany before returning home to the construction business in Oklahoma City.

Paul was one of Colorado’s original mountain town pioneers, spending the early ’60s in Crested Butte, where he built the Ore Bucket Lodge (now the Christina), managed a movie theatre, a laundromat and a boarding house while serving on the town council.

In 1967, Paul moved to Vail and founded the Nu Gnu, one of Vail’s destination hot spots in the late ’60s. Paul manned the door every night with a handlebar mustache and a fishnet shirt or a feather boa and a painted head.

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In 1970, Paul married Sarah Cox. They moved back to Oklahoma, but longed for Colorado. In 1976, they saw a chance when Vail’s first family owned lodge, the Christiania, came up for sale. They scraped together all the money they could find and moved their young family into the Christiania. Paul spent the next 40 years in Vail building a family and a business and a town. He helped found the Vail Chamber of Commerce, the Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater and the Shaw Regional Cancer Center. He served on the town council for more than a decade and served as mayor from 1983-87, where he succeeded in bringing the first World Alpine Ski Championships to Vail in 1989.

Paul rode a motorcycle 1,000 miles across Mexico, speared fish in Cozumel, built a church in Guatemala, attended daily mass, opened an art gallery, visited more than 50 counties, started an ecumenical ministry, flew small planes with his St. Bernard as a co-pilot, protested The School of the Americas, read voraciously, would always make room at the table for one more and would always lead with a hug.

He is survived by his wife, Sally; his four children Michelle, Paul, John and Michael; and his 11 grandkids.

A celebration of Paul’s life will be at the Vail Interfaith Chapel at 10:30 a.m. on Saturday with a reception to follow.

The celebration is festive dress — Hawaiian shirts and feather boas are encouraged. Paul lived a life of service, actively giving to hundreds of charities and relentlessly volunteering his time and energy.

In lieu of flowers, please make a contribution to a local charity or cause that is close to your heart.

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