Saturday, January 8, 2011

WASP Ruth Humphryes Brown, 43-W-8

"I heard about the (WASP) program--and all the gals were trying to do something for the war effort.  It was either that or Bundles for Britain  and I decided flying sounded a little more exciting  than knitting..."
  Ruth Brown from her interview: Wings Across America

WWII Pilot, Philanthropist, Aspen 
Matriarch Ruth Brown dies at 90

Ruth Humphreys Brown, an Aspen community leader since the ski resort’s post-war founding and wife to Aspen Ski Corp. president D.R.C. Brown, died Thursday, Dec. 30, 2010 in her Aspen home.

Brown, for whom “Ruthie’s Run” on Aspen Mountain was named, had celebrated her 90th birthday in November.

She is remembered as an Aspen matriarch who helped guide the town through its modern history with quiet strength, and as a devoted mother and neighbor with an outsized aptitude for both adventure and compassion.

“She lived in the shadow of my father,” her daughter Ruth recalled Sunday. “But what people didn’t realize was that she was much tougher than he was. Her strength was doing things and leading in such an unassuming way. She was quietly, in her way, able to lead behind the scenes.”

Born Ruth Boettcher Humphreys on Nov 11, 1921 to the prominent A.E. Humphreys family of Denver,  she grew up surrounded by the beautiful mountains of Colorado, steeped in the history of Colorado’s 19th century mining, oil and manufacturing industries and her father's love of aviation. 

A.E. Humphreys served as a Marine pilot in World War I, and, once he returned from the war, he bought one of the first passenger airplanes: a Fokker single engine.  Later, he bought a Tri-motor Beach.   Young Ruth grew up around airplanes.  However, her early experiences were only as a passenger. 

Ruth attended Kent School in Denver and later Miss Porter’s School in Connecticut and Finch College in New York City. 

In 1943, at 22, determined to help her country during World War II, she heard about the Army Air Forces Women's Flying training program.   Once she learned the requirements for acceptance, she decided it was time to learn to fly, and immediately began taking flying lessons.  Eventually, she completing the 35 required hours, applied and was accepted into the Women Airforce Service Pilots program, class 43-W-8, leaving her beautiful mountains to travel to Avenger Field in the middle of West Texas. It was there that Ruth, along with 47 other young women pilots, completed training and earned her WASP wings on December 17, 1943. 

After graduation, Ruth was stationed at Childress Army Air Base, Texas, where she trained bombardiers in AT-11's and later was stationed at Harlingen, Texas, where she flew as a B-26 tow target pilot, training gunners for combat.  Her last assignment was to March Field, California, where she was stationed when the WASP were disbanded on December 20, 1944.  From California, Ruth paid her way back to Colorado. 

After the war, Ruth became very interested in skiing and began spending time in Aspen with a cadre of Denver friends who were interested in creating a ski area. Among them was D.R.C. Brown, whom she married in 1947, the same year he founded the Aspen Skiing Corp. and marked the rebirth of the little-known mining town as a premier international resort destination.

“She was brought here by the whole ‘Aspen Idea,’” daughter Ruth Brown said, referring to the local “mind, body, spirit” credo.

Along with the founding families Paepckes and Pabsts, the Browns were present at the creation of Aspen as a modern utopia for the fulfillment of mind, body and spirit. They stewarded its growth as a peaceful mountain community, a world-renowned intellectual and cultural hub, and a world-class ski resort.

“She liked the sophistication and how diverse it could be,” Ruth said. “But she also liked the really down-home, grassroots attitude that Aspen was built on.”

When Brown moved to Aspen, she bought a mining shack on Hyman Avenue for $200, painted it pink and transformed it into a sort of social salon — known as “The Pink House” — where cowboys could, and did, mix easily with movie stars.

The Browns had five children together, and raised them on their ranch in Carbondale. Along with skiing and hiking, her hobbies included racing cars and riding horses. Ruth recalled her mother taming a large black gelding, which nobody else could handle.   “She would take us riding and lope out in front of us on this fiery, high strung horse as we all hung on to keep up with her,” she said.

“She really appreciated the growing of the ski industry and the elements making Aspen a broader, worldly resort,” Ruth recalled. “She had a harder time with the out-of-scale wealth that came in with it — and the people who didn’t appreciate the whole history of Aspen. She wanted people to come here who would appreciate it and try to be a part of the community, rather than bringing their city attitudes in.”

KNCB Moore, a longtime family friend, recalled taking a Colorado River trip with the Browns years ago. D.R.C. fell and broke his ribs in Cataract Canyon. “Ruthie had to row their 10-man raft, a very heavy, old World War II surplus,” Moore said. “I would run the rough white water stretches for her after I had kayaked through them.”

Moore also has found memories of the Brown's weekend parties at their Wagon Wheel Ranch in southern Colorado, which remains in their family. One such gathering included Grace Kelly and Prince Rainier.

“Ruthie Brown was a kind, generous and strong woman who made history and many of my Aspen memories. She will be missed,” Moore said.

In 1959, Brown established the Ruth H. Brown Foundation, and began funneling her time and money into nonprofits and causes close to home and to her heart.  She was a patron of the arts as well as a participant in workshops at Anderson Ranch Arts Center in Snowmass Village.   Her philanthropic efforts included founding the Blind Outdoor Leisure Development program, which taught the blind how to downhill ski and the first expansion of Outward Bound’s programs to America. 

Her daughter recalled playing on the Outward Bound rope courses in Marble as her mother often met with the growing organization’s brass. She successfully championed the expansion of its programs to women and as an outreach to at-risk inner-city youths.

“That was a large contribution to this country,” Ruth said.

Brown held a prominent place in the growing ski town’s ruling class, but she kept herself grounded within the community of year-round locals behind the glamour of the resort. Among her proudest achievements was founding the Aspen Recovery Unit, the town’s first official substance abuse treatment resource center. Brought up by parents who struggled with alcoholism, Brown converted a local home into a hub to help others like them in Aspen.

Family photo via Aspen Daily News
She spearheaded the construction of an ice rink across from the Pink House, which eventually became the Aspen Ice Garden and the base for Aspen’s now-fertile youth hockey and figure skating programs.

Those and other commitments, including raising her children, took her out of the pilot’s seat; she didn’t fly planes after her World War II service. But D.R.C. kept flying and she kept co-piloting. The family built a crude landing strip and kept a prop plane on their Carbondale ranch, taking sightseeing trips — often between there and another family ranch in Utah. Ruth recalled her mother taking the family station wagon out to the airfield and illuminating it with its headlights, to guide DRC in for nighttime landings.

Longtime friend, Sue Smedstad remembered: "Ruth Brown was as comfortable at a cocktail party for well-heeled directors of the Aspen Ski Corp. as she was puttering around the ranch.  This was a woman of elegance and quintessential taste, Yet she could raft a river and get down and dirty with the best of them." 

The wide, fast and often sun-drenched “Ruthie’s Run” on Aspen Mountain serves as a sort of living memorial to the departed grand dame, along with the chairlift and on-mountain restaurant also named for her. Ruth recalled ski days on the mountain with her four siblings and parents — and the peace of traditionally schussing down Ruthie’s with her mother at the end of a long day on the slopes.

“It was always our afternoon run,” she recalled. “It was special and really fun, to take one last run down the mountain together on Ruthie’s in the setting sun.”

When D.R.C. retired in 1979, he and Ruth began spending some time — and, in recent years, most winters — in Arizona.  They were married for more than six decades, until his passing in 2008. When he died, Ruth and longtime friend John McBride flew over their old Carbondale ranch and spread his ashes there.

In 1995, Ruth was inducted into the Aspen Hall of Fame.  On March 10, 2010, she, along with her WASP peers, was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, highest award Congress can bestow on a civilian.

Survivors include five children and their spouses, Darcey Brown of Moab, Utah, Boots Brown of Hesperus, Colo., Lorni Cochran of Brattelboro, Vt, Charla Brown of Creede and Ruthie Brown, of Aspen; three stepchildren, Marti Garvey of Salida, Dave Brown of Denver and Scott Brown of Grand Junction; seven grandchildren and a sister-in-law, Ruth Perry of Carbondale, Colo. 

The Brown family is planning a memorial service for Ruth on Jan. 22 at the Aspen Institute’s Paepcke Auditorium. This summer, they are planning another service at her family’s historic home in Creede.

When asked how her mom will be remembered, her daughter Darcey Brown said, “Almost everybody would mention her generosity. She helped family and friends and even strangers.” (quoted from Aspen Times Article)

“In the end,” her daughter Ruth said, “the most important thing in her life was her family. She was the glue that held us all together. She was a remarkable woman.”

Ruth’s maternal grandfather was Charles Boettcher who, between 1900 and 1905. helped organize the Great Western Sugar Company, the Ideal Cement Company, Western Packing Company, Capitol Life Insurance Company and several real estate and investment firms.

He and his son, Claude, established the Boettcher Foundation in 1937, and family members, including Ruth Humphreys, have continued to support its many philanthropic interests.

Ruth’s paternal grandfather and father were involved in mining, oil, and manufacturing interests. Her grandfather was known as the “king of the wildcatters” and had interests throughout the US. Ruth’s father was President of the Humphreys Gold Corporation, Humphreys Investments, Humphreys Mining and Engineering, and the Humphreys Phosphate Company.

In 1922, AE Humphreys senior founded the Humphreys Foundation. In the early 1920s, Humphreys’ mining interests had taken him to Creede, Colo., where he built a summer mountain retreat that remains an important gathering place for generations of family and friends.


*Article information respectfully compiled from
Wings Across America interview
Aspen Daily News article by Andrew Travers, Monday, January 3, 2011
 Aspen Times, article by Scott Condon,  January 1, 2011

Additional article: