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Vail’s original diplomat

HL Keith Brown DT 10-11-11
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EDWARDS, Colorado – Keith Brown has a small book about his big life.

If it weren’t for visionaries like him and the 20 other members of the original Vail Corporation, there might not be a Vail Valley.

You need to meet this guy: diplomat, entrepreneur, World War II veteran, scholar. You can Thursday at The Bookworm in the Edwards Riverwalk where he’ll be speaking and signing his book, “A Conversation with Ambassador Keith L. Brown,” part of a diplomatic oral history series.



All his money from the book will go to the local Habitat for Humanity affiliate. Part of the Bookworm’s money goes there, too.

“They do good work and I’m happy to help,” Brown said.

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The book mentions that he was involved in Vail, and he has great stories about that. It focuses on his life as a diplomat; he has great stories about that, too.

Brown landed in Vail from somewhere else, as most of us do. He was an attorney in Sterling, Ill., when he heard Pete Seibert’s siren song.

Brown was one of 20 original members of the Vail Corp., and one of four still with us: Brown, Harley Higbie, Jerome Lewis and Vernon Taylor. There were 192 original investors in Vail ranging from $1,250 to John Murchison’s $35,000. Former President George H. W. Bush bought in for $2,500.



They raised $1.6 million and began building Vail.

“You couldn’t launch a ski area now for a million dollars,” Brown said.

The ski company didn’t start showing much of a profit until the mid-1970s.

“Vail didn’t support itself through lift tickets. It was real estate sales. We were raising money for eight to 10 years,” Brown said. “It’s hard to believe it really happened, but it did. We got it off the ground in 1962.”

Brown built Vail’s first residence, a home on Mill Creek Circle. These days he and Carol live in Lake Creek.

World War II was on when he graduated Sterling High School in 1943. The Navy put him in its college training at the University of Illinois. The Navy ROTC sent him to Texas and he joined the war.

It was the mid-1940s when he met Ronald Reagan, who was already a rising Hollywood star. Reagan was raised in Dixon, Ill. Brown grew up in nearby Sterling. They met in 1942 when gossip columnist Louella Parsons, also from Dixon, brought Reagan back with her to Dixon for a day that was supposed to be in her honor. Reagan stole the show.

Brown had a date that day and he and Reagan met when he crowned Brown’s date Miss Rock River Queen.

“In the last few years when I’ve met people, who have been big Reagan fans, they always want to tell you how well they knew Ronald and how early in their career they met him,” Brown says in his book. “So they say the met Ronny in 1962, or something. I would say I met him in 1942. Many of them thought I was lying.”

Keith and Carol’s oldest son’s heart was enlarged and died in 1981 while working on a ranch in Rifle. The Browns needed a change in scenery, so when President Reagan called to ask Brown to be the ambassador to Lesotho, a tiny country in southern Africa, they started packing.

Reagan personally called everyone he wanted to be an ambassador, and invited them to the White House to have a portrait taken with the president.

Reagan instructed them to place it prominently on the piano in their home on their posts, so the people who came over when ambassadors entertained would be impressed.

Brown served as Republican national finance chairman for a few years, then was sent to Denmark as the ambassador.

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or rwyrick@vaildaily.com.


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