Lee was smart and funny and could charm almost anyone, and he often did.
I came to know Lee through his editorials in the Crested Butte paper in the late 1980s, after my mother died. I was looking for some connection, any connection to her, and that connection was (and is) always Crested Butte for me.
So I started subscribing to the paper here and on Sunday mornings in New York City, I would read Lee’s editorials to my sister Kate.
In 1991 I told Kate we had to get back here, if only to meet Lee Ervin.
So in January 1992, Kate and I came home to Crested Butte for a visit. The first place we went was the paper, and that afternoon we met Lee and Mark and hung out for a few hours.
Later that year in the summer, Kate moved in with Lee. I was moving back to Crested Butte too, and Lee generously invited me to move in with him as well, and so I did.
Fresh out of law school, I landed a law clerk job with a Republican hobbit lawyer in Gunnison, a man by the name of Fritz Russell. Lee did not think this was a good match at all, and told me so often.
Nevertheless, Lee loaned me his old Bronco, the one we all remember, the one missing a back windshield. The one with the choke problem, the one with the clutch problem.
Lee loaned me his only vehicle for a 5-day a week commute to Gunnison to a job he didn’t approve of with a man he didn’t like much.
In February that winter I took and failed the bar exam. Lee was the first person I told.
He rolled a cigarette and once again encouraged me to start smoking. He always thought I should start smoking. He said it would calm my nerves.
After he rolled his American Spirit, he looked at me and said, quoting Bob Dylan: “There’s no success like failure and failure’s not success at all Marie.” He added that this wasn’t really a problem for me. Then he paused and looked at me sideways but somehow still directly and said, “Unless of course you want to practice law.” Then he laughed that Lee laugh of his.
Lee was good at mixing his comfort of me with a little mockery. He just didn’t think failing the bar exam would matter in the long run, and it turns out he was right.
One cold, snowy night in that winter of 1992-1993, on my way home from working late in Gunnison, the Bronco died on the wrong side of Almont. I walked along the highway in the freezing, blowing snow until I came to a ranch house. From there I called Lee, who borrowed a car and came to my rescue.
He showed me with a flashlight held by fingerless gloves how to tinker with the choke so the engine started. And then he drove home to Crested Butte in the borrowed car because after all, it wasn’t missing a back windshield.
“Goodbyes are only for those who love with their eyes. Because for those who love with heart and soul, there is no separation.” –Rumi
Ceci, Dooley and Jane: I hope you know that he sure loved you.
He loved a lot of us, even the ones he encouraged to smoke.
Lee made fun of me in his relentless, witty, slightly or fully mocking way from the moment I met him.
And it made me lighten up. It also made me feel loved.
Thank you Lee, I miss you.
Photo of Lee Ervin, Paul Hitchcock and Fred Dyer taken by Brenda Olsen Bundy.