Vail Symposium prepares to let go of its ‘visionary’
VAIL – Ebby Pinson claims that no matter who she’s calling – Tom Brokaw, Robert Redford … she’s never afraid to pick up the telephone. She’s not one to get starstruck. It’s going to be hard to find someone who can make phone calls like Pinson. But now, the Vail Symposium’s executive director is making her last important calls and making her last plans for the Symposium’s winter slate of events.Those familiar with the Vail Symposium and those who have seen it through its best of times and its worst of times consider Pinson to be the organization’s saving grace. She rescued the Symposium from certain death a few years ago. Then, she kept it not just afloat, but steaming ahead. And now she will retire at the end of the winter.”She had vision,” said Karen Morter, who has been with the Symposium since 1972. “Ebby had an amazing amount of energy and enthusiasm for making it happen.”The Symposium began in 1971, when Vail was just 9 years old, spearheaded by Town of Vail manager Terry Minger and supported by then-mayor John Dobson.”The town really needed some infrastructure. (The Symposium) decided to call upon some fabulous minds from all over the United States who would know about such things,” Morter said. “At the time, it was just to inform the citizenry of things we could be doing for our community. One year it was how to save our water. One year it was alternative sources of energy. It could be something so simple as gathering our garbage and recycling. We had all kinds of people come in through the years.”The speakers arrived for just one weekend in August and included the likes of Robert Redford, Gerald Ford, Sam Donaldson, Pulitzer Prize-winning scientist Rene Dubos, and many others. In 1985, the town released the Symposium to raise funds for itself, but by the end of the 1990s, the funds were almost gone and the organization nearly vaporized. Pinson had just been taken on as coordinator, but the Symposium’s board couldn’t pay her.
Almost the end”We literally closed our doors,” Morter said. “We took the money that had been left over and put it in the bank.”But that’s when Pinson stepped up to the plate. Paid or unpaid, she didn’t want to see the Symposium die.”It’s such an important organization for our community,” Pinson said, while denying credit for the Symposium’s salvation. “It had been around for so long. It had so much potential. There were so many things we hadn’t tried. It seemed like a shame to let it go. There were other opportunities to explore. And for me personally, I like a challenge.” Morter Architects allowed the Symposium to use its West Vail office for a headquarters, which, Pinson said, was great because “at home, the phone was ringing too much.” Thus, Pinson, who had worked at the Vail Library for three years previous to joining the Symposium, stormed ahead with fundraising efforts ranging from envelope-stuffing to executive networking. She began organizing speakers to appear multiple times a year and launching into partnerships with Bravo! Music Festival and the Vail Library. “The Adventure Series has been fabulous,” said Morter, referring to the speaker series organized in conjunction with the library that has brought in everyone from “Outside” magazine writer and kayaker Peter Heller to famed archaeologist and professor Paolo Visona.
An eye for adventure”The Adventure Series has brought in people we’ve never seen at our other event. It appeals to a lot of people in the community,” Morter said. “Ebby started all of these programs similar to what we’re doing now. It’s a wide variety.”Pinson has been the brainchild behind the Beaver Creek Film Festival, a recent appearance by Mitch Albom, trips to the Glenwood Caverns and sheep dog explorations. Name something bizarre and intriguing and Pinson has had a hand in it.”We try to do things that are memorable,” Pinson said. “When we do something creative, people open the brochure and they’re not sure what to expect.”Pinson has organized a partnership with Colorado Mountain College this winter, which will feature a trip to Camp Hale to learn about dog sled racing. Pinson is not suffering from short timer’s syndrome by any means, and wants to be a part of securing the Symposium’s continuation. In her retirement, she plans to spend more time with her husband, who is also retiring from his job as pilot with United Airlines for the past 27 years of the couple’s 35-year marriage.”I guess I’ll get to know my husband better,” laughed Pinson. “But I want to see this through (over the winter) and make sure the ball doesn’t get dropped.”
As to filling Pinson’s shoes, Morter doesn’t mince words. Is she apprehensive about who will take the wheel after Pinson is out of the picture?”Extremely,” she said. “I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, there is nobody who can fill those shoes. You have to be a visionary. You have to be very, very good with people. Ebby goes to all the events. It has to be somebody willing to give their all. We’ve been so lucky.”For more information about the Vail Symposium, visit http://www.vailsymposium.orgStaff Writer Shauna Farnell can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 14632, or firstname.lastname@example.org.Vail, Colorado