Vail Valley shows support for Jack Kemp |

Vail Valley shows support for Jack Kemp

Dustin Racioppi
Vail, CO Colorado
Preston Utley/Daily file photoJack Kemp, center, talks to Vail Valley Republicans about supporting presidential candidate John McCain in Beaver Creek, Colorado this summer.

VAIL, Colorado ” The news of long-time politician and part-time Vail, Colorado resident Jack Kemp being diagnosed with cancer came as a shock to many in the valley who were close to him, but they don’t doubt that that former NFL quarterback will make a full recovery.

The announcement came Wednesday from Kemp’s consulting firm, Kemp Partners, but did not specify what type of cancer he was diagnosed with. A release from the firm said he’s undergoing tests to determine the origin of the cancer.

The firm’s managing partner, J.T. Taylor, said despite the bad news, Kemp’s mental state is upbeat.

“Jack is fine. He’s in good spirits,” Taylor said. “He fully intends to conquer this and will stay engaged in political business and charitable activities.”

After a successful career as quarterback with the San Diego Chargers and Buffalo Bills, Kemp made the transition to politics when he was elected to Congress in 1970 to represent western New York and Buffalo. He made a run at vice president in 1996 alongside Bob Dole.

In longtime valley resident Henri Stone’s opinion, Kemp should have been president.

“He was just such a hands-on, pragmatic politician that got the job done,” she said. “There are very few and far between.”

An example of that pragmatism that Stone remembers fondly was almost a decade ago, when she sat next to Kemp at a dinner table that included Newt Gingrich, who was saying how forceful America should be with Iraq. Kemp disagreed, she said, but had a more thoughtful approach.

“He said we should be like a well-armed dove,” Stone said. “It stuck with me because he is really so sophisticated, so sharp.”

Because of his days on the football field and the shape he kept himself afterward, the news of Kemp’s illness came by surprise, even at the age of 73.

“Because he was so strong and sturdy by nature,” Stone said.

Eagle County Republican party member Randy Milhoan didn’t personally know Kemp, but he still had an impact on Milhoan politically. He said Kemp was instrumental in luring presidential candidate John McCain to Edwards last summer, where the party raised more than $1 million for his campaign.

“Without him, it never would’ve happened. It was pretty amazing,” Milhoan said.

That’s the type of power Kemp has. Former Vail mayor and long-time resident Rod Slifer said when Kemp would stay at one of his Vail homes for the winter, and when former president Gerald Ford was around, it was one of the better times to be a politician in Vail.

“It was pretty easy to get things done politically when they needed to get done,” Slifer said.

Slifer, a close friend of Kemp’s, was one of the first to know about his illness, and that he wouldn’t be visiting Vail this winter. Kemp is also active with the Vail Valley Foundation, Slifer said, so it’s a loss to the community to even be without him for one winter.

“He’s a great contributor and he’s so well-crafted politically,” Slifer said. “Whenever he was asked to speak somewhere, he did that willingly.”

For those that know him, Kemp is a man who’s achieved a lot and kept a level head the whole way.

“Jack’s public and private life has always been all about empowering individuals to overcome differences and personal conflicts,” Stone said. “He has given an incredible amount of service to our nation and his adopted community in Vail Valley. We need to pay him back with our prayers and thoughts and support to help him get through this.”

But there’s also a feeling that Kemp won’t be needing all that, and he’ll be back in Vail soon enough.

“He was a really tough quarterback and a tough legislator,” Milhoan said, “and I think he’s going to be a tough opponent to this disease.”

Dustin Racioppi can be reached at 970-748-2936 or

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