This small town’s radio station never had one of those eye-in-the-sky news reporters. No Copter 6. No Traffic on the 10s.
But it had Captain Jack.
In the station’s early days, he strapped a remote broadcasting unit to his back and hang glided off Gold Hill: the radio crackled with his descriptions of the mountains, the rivers and the trees, the town as he saw it. Captain Jack had a view all his own.
“What ah’d lahk to do, is bring these people up with me,” Captain Jack said in a 1983 interview, his N’Hampshah brand of English changing started into stahted, carnival into cahnavah, mesa into maser. He wanted to have a hang gliding race from Gold Hill to Deep Creek Mesa. He told of flying Chuck Yeager tandem.
“Jack was quite a daredevil,” said his old friend Terry Selby.
He died, it seems strange to say, not in a hang glider, where he set records for altitude and duration.
Not on skis, where he was close to fearless.
Not on a motorcycle, where he’d cheated death once before, after hitting a deer and breaking practically all his bones.
He died on a pleasant pedal with his wife, Monica, Friday afternoon, on the two-lane road outside of Ophir, his home. It was a sunny day with visibility for miles.
He skied on the little hills behind his house as a kid. He did Keene State, four years in the Air Force, and coached high school football, an old interview said. Then, at 28, he watched a ski movie and saw his future. He settled first in Steamboat Springs, then in 1975 to Telluride, for the hang gliding.
Magazine writers explained this town by explaining Jack. Janice Zink called him the “epitome” of Telluride. You could throw a bucket of Clif Bars in any direction and not hit anyone who didn’t know him. It was said he was more famous here than Tom Cruise. And now there’s just the tape of his voice, hahd over the speakers at KOTO in the mahning, saying, in a rare bit of poetry, “It is such a moving thing. … The beautiful flights I’ve had, the things I’ve seen.”
There is the woman on the street repeating, “I can’t believe it; I can’t believe it.” And his friends’ voices, laced with curse words of anger and disbelief.
“He was one of the last individuals, just gritty, did things his own way,” said Rick Silverman, a longtime friend. “Kindness and crustiness, all the best of New England manners.”
“A big strapping guy, but he used it to help people, not to hurt people,” said Art Goodtimes, an old friend and now a county commissioner. “A guy with a lot of integrity. He didn’t kowtow, but he wasn’t aggressive.”
In poker — he played Tuesday nights — he hated a misdeal, and would shoot an “ah, cah’mahn,” at the lousy dealer, but no more. After a big snow, he never seemed to get tired of the front of the line, the first turns. “There were certain people you could sneak [in front of], and Captain Jack wasn’t one of them,” said Scott Kennett, an old ski buddy. Jack snagged first chair of the season a couple of years ago, and there were suggestions that he had snuck in and poached it. He protested the suggestion like he was arguing at the Supreme Court.
“He worked hard and he played hard and he was on the mountains as much as anyone,” said Rob Story, a poker buddy and a writer for Skiing magazine. “He was one of the most enthusiastic, most dedicated hard core skiers anywhere.”
He lived simply, working when he had to at all kinds of different jobs, most recently tree work, and dedicated himself to these sports that brought him near the edge. “I’ve sped everywhere,” he told Plum TV. “I’ve tried hard and jammed every moment of my life.” But in recent years he slowed down a bit. He settled down with his wife. He spent time with his daughter, Jill Curtis. “Let’s see what a different gear feels like,” he told Plum. He died on a high mountain pass, with his new love, apparently when he strayed away from the edge.
“He looked back to check to see if his wife was OK,” marveled Luigi Chiarani, a friend. “That’s something people didn’t know, is how gentle he was. That’s how he died, he looked back to see his wife.” He was a man with his own view.
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