Photos courtesy of Terry Butler
At the age of 16 Terry Butler found herself at a track meet, trying to hurdle her way onto the U.S. Olympic team. It was there she met Wilma Rudolph. “I’d never seen anything like it,” says Butler. “She ran like a faun.” Rudolph ran her way into Olympic history; Butler just kept running.
A self-described “adrenaline junkie,” Butler has lived and traveled the world over, with Aspen as her home base for the last four decades. Walk off Galena Street and up the black-diamond steps of the Residence Inn and you’ll discover Butler’s base camp. Part intimate hotel, part Victorian drawing room (with Asian accents), and part photographic gallery of Butler’s famous friends (Hollywood types like Jack Nicholson and Sylvester Stallone, politicos from Jimmy Carter to John McCain), the Residence Inn has catered to a loyal coterie of upscale guests since Butler cobbled it together in 1996. Originally a collection of apartments, the Residence fell into Butler’s hands when she began buying up leases and renovating the apartments.
Who better than a passionate traveler to run a hotel? Born and raised in Hobbs, New Mexico, then Abilene, Texas, Butler has refined the art of the peripatetic existence. At 17 she lit out for Mexico, eventually earning a degree from the University of the Americas in Mexico City. Possessing qualities then rare in Mexico—blond hair, blue eyes, stature—Butler was soon hosting three Mexican television shows and garnering ample modeling work. She preferred the former to the latter. “I had a lot more to say than how I looked,” she explains. Her first husband and father of her two children saw her on TV, vowed to marry her, and kept his word.
Butler spent 13 years in Mexico, but in 1968 she made a trip to Aspen and caught the skiing bug. (“My longest living relationship is with Ajax Mountain,” she says.) Eventually, she moved to the valley where she has variously raised Appaloosas, run a private gym, an antique concern, an interior design business and now a hotel. Despite a couple residencies outside of Aspen—once for a modeling gig in New York, another time for a husband in Dallas—she has always returned.
Butler’s commitment to Aspen manifests itself in various political and civic involvements, most notably a failed bid for mayor during the anti-fur wars of the early ’90s (“What are we women supposed to wear?” she asked then), and most recently in her opposition to the demolition of the Bidwell building. While generally pro-business, as people who run businesses tend to be, Butler puts a high price on preservation, preferring renovation to demolition. Some buildings, she says, “are spiritually part of the soul of the town and should not be destroyed.”
Butler’s involvement in these issues stems in part from her commitment to her hotel, which she plans to run as long as she can. “I can’t afford myself,” she says when retirement is suggested. By this she means she must fund her travel. Her special passion is hiking and climbing in the Himalayas, where she has made nine expeditions in the last 17 years. There have also been eight trips to India. Her face lights up when describing her initial trips to Nepal, trekking in the mountains or chewing the fat with fellow travelers at Katmandu haunts like the Hotel Yak and Yeti.
“My dream since childhood,” explains Butler, “was getting on an airplane and going to some far away place and seeing how long it took to meet everybody.” In the spring of 1993, Butler was the first up an unnamed peak in Bhutan (since christened Yali Peaks III), and in November of that year she was inducted into the Explorers’ Club. Butler considers it one of her most meaningful recognitions. “It’s a special group,” she says. “These people are really out there.”
When asked about her relationships with men, Butler admits that “it has been colorful.” She has dated lords, princes and marquises, athletes of various stripes (with a penchant for polo players and the occasional surfer), titans of industry, heirs of significant fortunes, rock ‘n’ rollers, actors and politicians from the prime minister of Nepal to the mayor of Mecca. Says Butler, “I’ve very much enjoyed the romances, but my life has never depended on whether I had a partner or not. I’m the happiest single person I’ve ever met. It works for me. I have a very full life. I can’t ever remember being bored.”