Steamboat Springs Longtime Steamboat Springs resident Cindy Maddox died the morning of April 12, nine weeks after her 62nd birthday. But before she went, she left the community one last gift.
In a series of emails to friends and family sent from the remote Snowy Range Ski Area west of Laramie, Wyo., Maddox demonstrated how one could approach the final phase of life with an appreciation for the beauty of nature, a dry sense of humor and an undiminished enthusiasm for work.
The emails also reflect her love for her husband, Bob (they were together for 40 years), and sons Hunter and Aaron.
On Feb. 10, Maddox wrote:
"Hunter and I went on a snowcat tour last night in the full moon, and it was the perfect culmination of what it is here at Snowy. Beautiful snow — big ol’ warm cat running through the silent forest — perfect corduroy laid out on trails (and) magic time with a kid that is funny and caring and competent. Seeing what Aaron has accomplished — my family taking care of me. What more could I ask?”
Cindy’s friend Rosemary Pearson said emails were a more comfortable way to communicate than phone calls in her final days, but Cindy remained focused on other people.
“She always asked about what you were doing when she was in the fight of her life,” Pearson said.
Cindy Maddox was born Feb. 8, 1950, on her family’s farm in Lodgepole, Neb., west of Sidney. She earned a degree in music from Hastings College and played the flute. Her husband thinks it was the mathematical underpinnings of music that made her a good businesswoman and administrator.
Cindy and Bob met right after college graduation at an Episcopal music camp in Evergreen, where he had become the director of food service at the improbable age of 16. She took a liking to him even though he was in his scruffy, longhaired hippie stage.
Later, while living in Steamboat, they purchased the 40-unit Highland Green Apartments, where Cindy oversaw remodeling, collected the rent and evicted recalcitrant tenants.
“One day, she came home and said a tenant had opened the door holding a big Rambo knife,” Bob recalled. “She told him, ‘Put that stupid thing away, and pay the rent.’”
When they sold the apartment building, Bob used a portion of the proceeds to surprise her with a Steinway grand piano.
“She could be tough,” he said, but Cindy also had a slightly sarcastic sense of humor.
On March 13, she wrote from Snowy Range:
“The crows have discovered the Dumpster, and we now have hugely overweight crows from all over southern Wyoming pulling french fries out of trash bags and waddling around. We’re going to have to hire a cardiovascular ornithologist or maybe a puma to get rid of them.”
Cindy’s drive to run businesses and organizations in an orderly fashion merged with a passion for emergency services during a five-year tenure as manager of the Steamboat Springs Rural Fire Protection District. It was in an era when the ambulance barn on Yampa Street was a wooden shed that afforded two bays.
Bob is a pilot, and the couple decided to purchase an air ambulance service here that went on to fly 1,200 patients, many of them on life-saving missions. Cindy was consumed with the details of running the complex business.
That phase of their lives arrived at a tragic ending after January 2005, when one of the aircraft crashed outside Rawlins, Wyo., killing three of four people on board.
Bob said his wife never really got over the accident, but she finally was emerging from that dark cloud after they purchased Snowy Range in September 2010. Cindy likened the purchase of the financially troubled ski area to buying a pirate ship crewed by a rowdy gang. But she relished the challenge of molding it back into shape and strengthening the staff.
“If you dress like a pirate, you’ll walk the plank like a pirate!” she once proclaimed to the staff.
Fatefully, it was just two weeks after closing on the purchase of the ski area that Cindy underwent surgery to treat what was first thought to be an abscess under her arm. It turned out to be breast cancer that manifested itself in a tumor that did not involve the breast.
Cindy was not able to be as active as she had hoped in the ski area operation that first winter. A difficult round of chemotherapy saw to that.
The ski season that just ended was another matter. While Bob devoted much of his time to his real estate appraisal business in Steamboat, Cindy and Aaron soldiered on through a ski season of little snow. Cindy had made a list of projects, and she was determined to cross them off one by one despite the cancer.
Cindy’s travel companion Paula Cooper Black said the brave way her friend worked through the winter always will stay with her.
“The life lesson I will always carry with me and use as my touchstone is the lesson of her friendship, courage and grace,” Cooper Black said.
Late in the season, her sense of humor still was intact when Cindy wrote:
“Things are definitely winding down to the final day here. We actually had to send the rental manager home for necking with his girlfriend behind the rental boots. As another employee remarked, ‘Must be in the air … I just did let my herd bull out with the heifers.’ Good grief!”
But Cindy’s strength was ebbing at ski season’s end. On April 2, she wrote.
“One day last week Bob and I did a final magic trip on a snowmobile to the top of the mountain after closing. We were able to sit in a chairlift and enjoy a bottle of wine while looking out over the gorgeous valley, then came back down through all those silent trees. Not many people can say they have enjoyed some of the moments we have — lots of risks but lots of rewards, as well. I wouldn’t trade that evening for six months in a nursing home.”
Ten days later, she was gone. Bob always will recall her smiling one last time before she looked away from him.
It has become conventional to describe a death from cancer as a “lengthy, courageous battle.” But his wife was not in a battle, Bob said. Instead, she likened the experience to being swept up in an avalanche that carried her down and ran her through the trees.
Kathy Connell, who was close to the couple, said they had a capacity for sharing intimate friendship even with casual acquaintances. She praised Cindy for her highly attuned sensitivity to others that was paired with a capacity for “genteel aggressiveness.”
“Her eyes would look right through to your soul, and you could look back into hers,” Connell said.
To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email tross@SteamboatToday.com