John Van Ness 1940 –2019

John Van Ness left us on September 6 after bouts with many health
issues that had plagued him following the death of his companion of 28
years. John’s soulmate, Kathy, was broadsided near their Carbondale
home in 2014 when John was attending the annual Peach Sectional in
Grand Junction, CO. Her death took an immense toll.

The New Jersey-born Dutchman graduated with a degree in economics from
Yale University and then the New York University law school. Perhaps a
born rebel, he fled the East Coast for the wilds of Aspen, Colorado in
1972. The 70s and 80s were the ‘Gonzo Days’ in Aspen and John was an
active participant.

In 2006 The Aspen Times summed up John’s legal career with the
headline, “A face every Aspen defendant can love.” He had become one of
the Roaring Fork Valley’s best-known and most experienced defense
attorneys. More Matlock than F. Lee Bailey, his folksy style endeared
him even to the prosecutors.

To say that John’s life was joy lived fully is an understatement.

His passing not only signifies that a member of our ever-dwindling
bridge family is gone. It signifies the fading of an era -- the era of
the true amateur bridge player. John was an amateur in the truest sense
of the word -- a truly excellent player who played for the love of the
game, not for money, not for reputation, not for ego. He partnered
friends, mentees, companions. He played bridge because he loved bridge.

He was, nevertheless, a world-class duplicate bridge player who won in
dozens of tournaments around the country including the 1976 ACBL NABC
Amateur Pairs. He was a Diamond Life Master and a Certified Bridge
Instructor.

A founding father of Western Colorado duplicate bridge, John is the
‘John Wayne’ of Western Colorado bridge. He wore numerous hats and wore
them all well -- with intelligence, wisdom and his unique ever-present
wit and humor. JVN was the linchpin of everything bridge in Western
Colorado. For decades he rarely missed any of our sectional
tournaments. And always entertained us with wonderful tales of his
travels to faraway tournaments.

John liked Scotch and cigarettes and well . . . other things. He loved
Kathy, bridge and the law. In that order. And, oh my, could he tell a
story! He counted among his colorful friends (and clients) the likes of
his former neighbor, Hunter S. Thompson, the inventor of ‘Gonzo
lifestyle.’

John did everything. Really. Everything. He had lived in Aspen for
only a couple of years when he was first elected to the Aspen City
Council. He served multiple terms over the years and is famously quoted
saying, “If you want to solve a problem, the worst way to do it is
government.” Committed to his community, he was a member of the Elks,
the Aspen Eagles and the Carbondale American Legion.

All that and he still found time to serve multiple terms as the
Western Conference president and District 17 president as well as terms
on various ACBL boards. For many years he wrote for the District 17
ScoreCard and authored a bridge column for The Aspen Times. In all the
circles John ran in he was always ‘the good guy” -- even when you were
on the opposite side of an issue. That was JVN. An active member of our
little Unit 364 he was never too busy to help out with even the most
tedious of unit squabbles.

To say that he is missed falls short.