Shimkonis had helped Holbrooke place CNN crews on the ski mountain for a program about avalanche control; now, Holbrooke was calling for help with his father.
“My father’s coming to Telluride,” Holbrooke told Shimkonis, “and I need your assistance in handling media requests.”
The relationship between Mountainfilm and both Holbrookes – Richard, and his son, David, who became Mountainfilm’s program director in 2006 – has helped to elevate this tiny mountain town’s Memorial Day mountaineering/global consciousness-raising/world events/film festival to international stature, in recent years.
Shimkonis remembers the extraordinary diplomat Richard Holbrooke, who died in Washington, D.C., on Monday, Dec. 13, four days after suffering an aortic tear, while meeting with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
“I first met Richard when I was working as communications director for Telluride Ski Co., a year after I had helped his son, David, with some news programming for a show CNN was doing on avalanches.
“Six months after I met David, I saw Richard on television; they looked nearly alike, and I called David and said, ‘I had no idea he was your father.’ And David said, ‘Well, he’s going to be coming to Telluride in a little bit, and he’ll need your assistance handling media requests.
“Fast-forward to a few months later, and I get a call from the State Department, saying that Richard is en route from Bosnia to Telluride, and would I be able to coordinate all the media interviews? So I said, ‘Sure.’ And they said, ‘Stand by for Ambassador Holbrooke. He’d like to speak with you.’ He was on a C-130 Military Aircraft, and he thanked me and asked me if I was indeed the same size he was, because David had told him I was, and that he could borrow my shirt, my coat and my tie so he could go on TV, because all his stuff was trashed. And it went from there. We went skiing together, on that visit, and we just connected easily.
“That was the pinnacle of his career, although I think the Afghanistan-Pakistan [accord] would have [supplanted] that, if he’d made it through. The man has literally saved hundreds of thousands of lives around the globe.
“How Richard is portrayed in the world is totally different than he was with those of us who knew him in Telluride, regarding his forceful personality and his bulldozing of things. He bulldozed down the mountain – that was about as much bulldozing as he did around here. He contacted me two days before he fell ill. Getting updated on Telluride happenings and ski conditions was a nice respite from the Af-Pak mess. His forcefulness came through in the international arena, in behind-the-scenes meetings with prime ministers and presidents. His forcefulness here came through his passion, of wanting Telluride preserved and protected, and wanting Mountainfilm to amplify certain messages that were very important, near and dear to him, by making sure we were in touch with a particular luminary in the mountaineering field, or in an political field, to drive a point across. In Telluride, he did a spontaneous kind of improvising, where he would make things happen.
“When he was here, in Telluride, he loved being an everyday person. He talked to everybody, but, at the same time, he was the best and the most brilliant member of this generation of diplomats. He was a unique, effective diplomat, because he could resolve complicated problems with deftness and with lightning speed, but he also carried the hammer in his other hand. A perfect example is what he did with Milosevic, in Bosnia – he walked away from a critical meeting, saying: ‘If you don’t stop this conflict when I close the door, we’re going to start bombing.’
“General Petraeus called Richard ‘our diplomatic wingman,’ and that was true. It’s a tremendous loss for our planet, for our country, for Telluride, for his friends and especially for his family.”
An event commemorating the life of Richard Holbrooke will be held in Telluride sometime next year.