The aspiring young attorney from small-town Colorado always had big-city aspirations. After graduating first in his class from the University of Denver College of Law, Tom Sharp took off for St. Louis in 1969 to be a clerk with a U.S. Court of Appeals judge. New York's Wall Street may have been his next stop -- the offers were there -- had the reality of metropolitan living not hit Sharp like a blast of hot Missouri air one September afternoon.
"It was hotter than blazes and all six lanes of traffic were dead stopped," Sharp said of the fateful Friday commute in St. Louis. "I remember thinking, 'I don't like this. I don't want to live this way. And if I don't like St. Louis, I'll hate New York.'"
It wasn't too long before Sharp and his wife, Sandy, were planning a move to the growing resort town of Steamboat Springs. Three decades later and still in Steamboat, Sharp said he has no regrets about his decision to return to his rural Colorado roots.
"I've never missed that I didn't go to Wall Street," Sharp said. "I've had the opportunity to do some very sophisticated, challenging work."
The 59-year-old Sharp was raised in Monte Vista, the son of a mortician who worked a four-town area in the San Luis Valley.
It was in the irrigated potato fields of the valley that Sharp began to understand the importance of the state's water supply. His interest in water blossomed after he was granted a seat on the board of directors for the Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District in 1977.
Since then, Sharp has established himself as a top water law attorney, and he recently was appointed by Gov. Bill Owens to serve on the Colorado Water Conservation Board.
But water isn't the only thing Sharp has dipped into since he arrived in Routt County.
Sharp's involvement in the community has taken many avenues, including a decade of service on the Steamboat Springs School Board, board of director positions with the Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association, Routt County Habitat for Humanity, Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District, Colorado River Water Conservation and several local banks, and membership with the Kiwanis and Rotary clubs, not to mention his association with various legal groups.
Always up-front with his opinions, Sharp has impressed those who he has worked with, regardless of whether they agree with him.
"I didn't know Tom very well until I started working with him on the School Board," said Paula Stephenson, current School Board president. "I don't have enough nice things to say about him. He's a bright individual who cares deeply about the community and the schools."
Sharp, who often referred to himself as a "minority of one" because of his propensity to be the lone School Board member on a particular side of an issue, was always honest to fellow board members and the public, Stephenson said.
Honesty and integrity is how Sharp hopes he's remembered in regards to all of his work. "I want people to think I have high integrity and that I'm careful and competent in what I do," he said.
Service to the community is something Sharp said was part of the mindset of the young people who moved to Steamboat in the late '60s and early '70s. "There was an atmosphere that this place was going to grow and become a major ski resort," Sharp said. "It was exciting to be working with your contemporaries in building businesses, doing development work and being active in community organizations. You had a sense you were building and shaping this town."
There's little doubt Sharp's had his share of influence on Steamboat Springs, from the courtroom to the boardroom.
But there's another side to Sharp not many know about. It's the side that can rattle off the names of distant Himalayan peaks and various routes up Colorado's 14ers. His blue eyes light up when he recalls mountaintops summitted and ski slopes carved.
In a little more than 12 years, Sharp has reached the top of 40 of the state's 14,000-foot peaks, and he strives to tackle more each summer.
"There's just something about being up high that makes you really feel alive," Sharp said. "It's really a feeling of accomplishment and a fabulous view."
His insatiable appetite for 14ers was whet 12 years ago during a backpacking trip in Colorado's Sawatch mountain range, home to 15 of the state's 54 highest peaks. After reaching the top of a 13,000-foot elevation saddle, Sharp and his camping partner couldn't resist the temptation to climb nearby Mount Belford.
"We dropped our packs and climbed to the top," he recalled. They summitted Mount Oxford and Mount Missouri in the following days, and the thrill of the accomplishments left him wanting more.
Mountains have always been in Sharp's blood. He grew up skiing the slopes at Wolf Creek Pass, a resort his father helped found. His love for powder hasn't waned, either. The avid skier hits the slopes as often as he can, recently taking a weeklong trip to several Utah ski resorts. On that trip were two of Sharp's three sons; he also has a daughter.
Longtime friend John Kerst met Sharp shortly after arriving in Steamboat in 1988 and he's admired the family-dedicated man ever since. "Tom and Sandy are wonderful parents, and you see that in their kids," Kerst said. "I enjoy being around Tom because of his commitment to the community and his family and friends."