Vail Valley Voices: World lost friend in Jack Kemp
Vail, CO, Colorado
Jack Kemp and I rode chairlifts together hundreds of times during the past 20-plus years. He was a good, strong skier and an opinionated, brilliant and usually right-on conversational companion.
If you would like to read a complete bio about Jack Kemp, just look him up on Google or Wikipedia. Plan on sitting in front of your computer for a long time, though, because his bio is probably more than 787,000 words long, and it doesn’t even begin to tell the whole story, just his highlights.
The summary? Jack was a professional quarterback, a congressman, the secretary of housing and urban development, a defender of minority rights, a vice presidential candidate and a bonafide, 100 percent American.
However, I knew a different Jack Kemp because I knew him when he was out of the spotlight. These times were usually when I was trying to keep up with him roaring down some ski run in Vail, at The Yellowstone Club in Montana or at a quiet dinner with him and his wife, Joanne, in our home in Vail.
I remember the first night that Laurie and I met Jack. It was at a New Year’s Eve party at the Minturn Saloon in about 1987. We had sat down next to him and Joanne, and we were invited to ski together the next day. We did, and our friendship grew from there.
They began to leave their equipment in our basement between ski trips, and a few years later, they bought a place in Vail, which became a hangout for the Kemp clan. Eventually, they bought another place right next door to their own so they could somehow fit all of their four kids, the kids’ husbands and wives and their 17 grandchildren during the Christmas holidays.
Some of the things I remember most about Jack are the many great discussions we had on chairlifts and while having lunch at a place called The Dog House in Vail.
It was a noncorporate hot-dog stand off the beaten path. We would sit in the sun and talk and listen to our wives compare their ideas on how they could help make the world a better place. It was great.
Jack and I also liked The Dog House because you could get a great bratwurst sandwich, fries and a bottle of soda pop for less than $4.
The corporate-owned restaurants on the mountain charged a couple of extra dollars for the same lunch, the seating was inside, and they were usually very crowded.
Jack had a lot of good one-liners that summed up his philosophy on life: “Winning is like shaving. If you don’t do it every day, you look like a bum.” And, “Pro football gave me a good perspective when I entered the political arena. I had already been booed, cheered, cut, sold (to the Buffalo Bills for $100) and hung in effigy.” But the one-liner that makes more sense with each passing day is, “Democracy without morality is impossible.”
In 1996, Jack invited Laurie and me to dinner at a Chinese restaurant ” his treat. At Hop Chings’ Chinese Coffee House that night, he introduced us to Tim Blixseth, who was just starting the Yellowstone Club in Montana (yes, it’s the ski resort that is involved in a $400 million bankruptcy at this time, and no, it’s absolutely no fault of Jack’s or mine).
Two weeks later, we all stood at the top of Pioneer Peak in Big Sky Country. Two weeks after that, we once again stood at the top, and this time, we watched as Jack’s wife, Joanne, become the first grandmother to ever ski off of the top of that mountain.
Did Jack change my life? Of course he did. He also really solidified a lot of what I had been thinking most of my life in relation to politics. Probably the longest stretch of creative discussion we ever got into was when I made the statement that, “In the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s, the gene pool of today’s potential world leaders was killed in World War II, The Korean War and in Vietnam. America lost more men on the first day of the invasion of Iwo Jima than we have lost in Iraq to date.”
I could not prove my theory, and he could not disprove it. Unfortunately, we have now lost another world leader in Jack Kemp.
There will be a lot of books written about Jack, and they will all be hundreds of pages long, but I have a library full of memories of being with him, skiing together day after day and, sometimes, beating him to the bottom of the mountain, where my wife would be waiting for both of us.
Jack, we all miss you a lot already, and please save some of the powder snow for us.