Live-blogging from Aspen, Colorado - Ken Lay Memorial

I wasn't going to disclose my location while on working vacation, but since half the world already has my dang cell phone number, I might as well share with you the latest from Aspen, a magnificent mountain town whose winter opulence gives way to slightly less opulence in the summer, together with some great art, music, science, and discussions of great ideas. Apologies to my SciBlings Karmen and Kevin for having such a short jaunt through the Front Range and being unable to catch up in person this time. Sounded like Kevin was checking out for awhile himself.

Got in late last night and had a little more unpacking to do with PharmPreSchooler blowing chow during the last 20 miles (32 km) from Denver on the hairpin curves ascending and descending 12,095 ft (3687 m) Independence Pass (CO 82). (Don't feel bad, sweet girl, even Gen Colin Powell gets altitude sickness up here.)

So, upon arrival, I naturally retired to the bar to forage for some vittles for the family and picked up my favorite local rag, the Aspen Daily News (Motto: "If you don't want it printed, don't let it happen"). Former President Bill Clinton was just here at the Aspen Ideas Festival and I'll get you a link later to a few of his great quotes on what he'd ask Karl Rove when he is scheduled to appear later this week. (The Daily has a terrible web site, and yesterday's paper hasn't quite made it to the archives yet.)

But what caught my eye was the biblical blathering in the half-page obituary, also reproduced in The Aspen Times, for the recently-departed Enron scoundrel, Ken Lay, who passed away in a rented property in Old Snowmass, just down the road apiece from where he once owned two multimillion dollar properties in Aspen proper.

I'm not really a political or society blogger, but maybe it's my outrage at the sins of Ken Lay that leads me to write about him. Incidentally, this is also my first year here without the presence of the great gonzo journalist, Hunter S Thompson, whose remains were blasted out of a 170-foot cannon down valley earlier this year.

Lay was able to still relax here in Colorado, even while awaiting sentencing on his crimes. He was relatively quiet here, with some local causes counting themselves beneficiaries of his generosity. Lay was even reported venturing into Dr Thompson's old stomping ground, The Woody Creek Tavern. As noted by local Jimmy Ibbotson of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band,

"We were polite enough not to bring up the (expletive) thing he did to all those thousands of people," Ibbotson said. "He'd come in and see us laughing and having a good time. I got the feeling he wanted that. I think he wanted to fit in, and we would have let him if he had given all that money back."

Had Dr Thompson still been alive, I think Lay wouldn't have made it back to his car. Now we even learn that Lay's death will void his convictions and prevent the government from seizing over $183 million of his assets, saving his survivors from financial ruin. Great - what about those dedicated Enron workers who are suffering financial ruin?

So, this is why I am ambivalent about a criminal whose life as a whole I don't really know, because he seemed to have been of great character and generosity for most of his life, biblical quotes notwithstanding:

Ken Lay was born April 15, 1942 in Tyrone, Missouri to a loving father and mother - Omer and Ruth Lay. Ken spent 64 years on earth doing God's work helping others with great compassion. We know that Ruth and Omer have embraced their precious son once again.

Ken's life exemplified Galatians 5:22: But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.

Despite his meager upbringing, Ken was always generous with his time, money, love, talents and leadership. To know Ken was to love him. Many benefited from Ken's generosity - the American Heart Association, Aspen Camp School for the Deaf, Aspen Institute, Assistance League of Houston, Beta Theta Pi Fraternity, Brookwood Community, Child Advocates Inc., The Counsel for Alcohol and Drugs Houston, DIFFA, Episcopal High School, First United Methodist Church, Holocaust Museum Houston, Horatio Alger Scholarship Fund, Houston Area Women's Center, Houston Food Bank, Houston SPCA, NAACP, Open Door Church, Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, Rice University, Salvation Army, Star of Hope, University of Houston, United Negro College Fund, United Way of Texas Gulf Coast, YMCA of Greater Houston.

Yes, Ruth and Omer may be embracing their son today, but I wonder if Omer is also taking him out back for a good switching as well. And did his "great compassion" include reimbursing his 4,000 former employees for their lost retirement savings in worthless Enron stock while he and Mr Skilling so conveniently cashed out before the fall?

But, God's word saves once again:

He who fears the LORD has a secure fortress, and for his children it will be a refuge. Proverbs 14:26
Ken leaves behind five children, Robyn, Mark, David, Elizabeth and Beau, who all love him very much. He was their role model for life, business and Christian faith....

Children's children are a crown to the aged, and parents are the pride of their children. Proverbs 17:6
Twelve grandchildren, Nicholas, Hannah, Hailey, Sasha, Zach, Pate, Alex, Gage, Preston, Katie, Lucas and Tessa, remember their beloved "Papi/Papia" (depending on which of the 12 you ask) who was never afraid to be silly to entertain one of his treasured grandchildren. He loved teaching them how to whistle, cluck, ride ponies, build snowmen in Colorado and spent precious time with them, watching college football and attending many recitals.

His Aspen obituary ends with his leaving the public sector in 1974 to begin his foray in the natural gas industry, most notably excluding any mention of "the crooked E." However, the obituary on his personal web site, includes a little bit more:

Ken loved Enron, and saw the company as one of limitless possibilities. He often talked of the incredible talent at Enron and believed that the Enron employees were unsurpassed in any industry. Ken believed the real value of Enron was in its people. From the most junior employee to his top executives, Ken treated all with the same dignity and respect they deserved as children of God. Employees often remarked on how he recalled their names, family, and other personal details they shared with him.

I, the Lord, search the heart and examine the mind, to reward a man according to his conduct, according to what his deeds deserve. Jeremiah 12:10

For those who know and love Ken, we take comfort in the knowledge that he is in the loving presence of the one true Judge.

There will be a memorial celebration of Ken Lay's life just down the street in two hours. But for me, the arrogance of opulence, the hypocritical invocation of God's word, and lack of remorse to the end for his swindling of hard-working, good-intentioned people will keep me away.

Here's a good verse that folks might care to add over at

Matthew 27:3-5: When Judas, who had betrayed him, saw that Jesus was condemned, he was seized with remorse and returned the thirty silver coins to the chief priests and the elders. "I have sinned," he said, "for I have betrayed innocent blood." "What is that to us?" they replied. "That's your responsibility." So Judas threw the money into the temple and left. Then he went away and hanged himself.

At least Judas bore the responsibility of returning his blood money before checking out.

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Turns out that I was not the only one offended by the content of Ken Lay's biography and obituary: From the Letters to the Editor of this morning's Aspen Daily News: Editor: I just finished reading your paper's obituary of Kenneth Lay and was somewhat puzzled by the dichotomy between Kenneth Lay,…
"Enron Founder Kenneth Lay Dies at 64" Upon reading this headline one cannot help but wildly speculate as to the cause of Lay's surprising death. Did he commit suicide? Was his body found in a Washington D.C. park? What on earth happened? Pastor Steve Wende of First United Methodist Church of…
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I too am ticked that Lay's premature death may vacate his convictions. And I've listened to and read some of the stories from people in Houston and Aspen, speaking to his benevolence and generosity. I think it must have been easy to be generous when you are wildly rich from the pilfering of your employees. Maybe those who accepted his money should return it so that it could be placed back in the hands of those hard working, respectable individuals who lost it all while he followed his greed. About the best thing to come out of this is that it started the ball rolling and brought down some of the other corporate greedy sharks from those other companies like Adelphi and World Com.