Robert W. Craig, founder of The Keystone Center, dies at 90 |

Robert W. Craig, founder of The Keystone Center, dies at 90

Summit Daily staff report
Summit Daily/Brad OdekirkKeystone resident Bob Craig turned 80 in September and a hundred and fifty friends and relatives celebrated with him at the Keystone Science School.

Robert W. Craig, longtime Summit County local and founder of The Keystone Center, has died, his family announced this week. He passed away peacefully, surrounded by family and friends at Colorado Acute Care Hospital in Denver. He was 90 years old.

There was hardly a topic that Bob Craig couldn’t discuss with some authority, from what it was like to climb mountains like Everest and K2 to strategies for global biotechnology practices. A resident of Summit County since the 1970s, Craig left his mark on both the local and the international communities.

Craig founded The Keystone Center in 1975 with the goal of addressing complex environmental and public policy issues affecting industry, government and the environment by applying the discipline of science and bringing all relevant stakeholders to the table. At the time, Craig’s consensus-building approach was highly unorthodox among policy leaders whose approach to solving contentious issues was most often litigation.

Under Craig’s leadership, the center built its reputation by tackling a number of groundbreaking policy issues, including nuclear waste, biotechnology, AIDS research and a myriad of natural resource concerns. The center became known both for confronting tough issues and for bringing leaders with disparate positions to the mountains — a neutral space – to share perspectives and move toward collaborative solutions.

“I think we had a real impact.”
Bob Craig
on The Keystone Center


“I think we had a real impact,” Craig said of the center’s work in a 2013 Summit Daily interview. “I think we were at the cutting edge at the emergence of the biotech industry.”

Born in California, Craig spent much of his youth in “The Golden State,” in Panama, where his father, a Naval officer, was stationed, and in Seattle. It was in these settings that he cultivated a love of outdoor activities, particularly sailing and mountaineering.

“I grew up around boats all my life. My life is between the sea and the mountains,” he told the Summit Daily.


Craig, who most frequently described himself as the “ultimate accidental tourist,” served in the U.S. Navy as an officer on an attack cargo ship (AKA 80) and was on the first naval ship to arrive in Nagasaki, Japan, after the atomic bomb was dropped. He graduated in biology and philosophy from the University of Washington and Columbia University; was the first executive director and chief operating officer of the Aspen Institute, from 1953 to 1965; and was co-founder of the Aspen Center for Physics.

Craig served as president of the American Alpine Club after a long career in mountaineering, leading the first attempted American ascent of K2 in 1953 and joining several Himalayan expeditions as a team member or leader. His book “Storm and Sorrow” is a detailed account of a harrowing expedition in the Pamir Mountains of Central Asia in which Craig lost several teammates and nearly faced death himself. He was elected to the American Mountaineering Hall of Fame in 2009.

When he left the Aspen Institute in 1963 he bought and ran a cattle ranch near Aspen, then spent 10 years in the industrial design industry before coming to Keystone at the behest of his good friend Robert A. Maynard, who at the time was president of Keystone Resort.

“He asked me if I had another Aspen in me,” Craig said. “I said, well, not exactly Aspen, because I don’t think that it would be a good idea to copy what Aspen is doing, but I said I’d be interested in trying out an idea, and that idea became The Keystone Center.”


“Today the world has lost a great man and a great leader,” said Keystone Center CEO Christine Scanlan. “Robert W. Craig was a visionary, a pioneer in both mountaineering and collaborative decision-making, and a true legend. As The Keystone Center enters its 40th year, we remain ever conscious of the spirit and mission in which Bob founded this organization. His passion to effect change and his commitment to do so in a way that brings together a full array of perspectives on any given issue will remain the driving force behind the work of The Keystone Center.”

U.S. Ambassador Edward Gabriel, a close friend and early collaborator of Craig’s in the formation of the center, noted that Craig’s most unique and endearing quality was his ability to connect with people from different walks of life, regardless of age, status or perspective.

“At Keystone, we called Bob Craig ‘The Great One’ because he was one of the finest men we have ever known,” said Clinton Vince, chair of Denton’s Global Energy Practice and a former board chair of Keystone. “We all will miss his grin, his grace, his magnificent style as a skier and alpine climber, and his gentle manner of inspiration.”

Dr. Tom Hornbein, member of the first American team to ascend Everest in 1963, added, “Bob was a consummate mountaineer. He was a caring catalyst with a patient ear and an uncanny ability to guide you without your ever knowing you were being steered.”

The motto Craig lived by, says Scanlan, was “Dare to fail,” a challenge to reach toward greatness despite any promise of success. “Bob Craig was a fearless individual who continues to serve as an inspiration to those who were fortunate enough to know him,” said Scanlan. “He will be deeply missed.”

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