MAMMOTH LAKES, Calif. - From New York to Los Angeles, the obituaries for Andrea Mead Lawrence, who died recently at the age of 76, told of her skiing accomplishments while still a teenager and then a young mother. That was fitting and proper, for her skiing accomplishments were extraordinary, unrivaled for a half century.
But just as Sir Edmund Hillary was far more interesting for what he did after climbing Mt. Everest, so did the eulogies tell of a woman's life that truly began after she collected her Olympic gold medals, then put them into a box.
The medals were a means to an end - an end she never fully attained, and perhaps could not. What she wanted most was a shared respect for the mountains and an agreed upon sense of the role of people within those mountains.
She was born into the world of ski resorts. Her parents had founded Pico Peak, a resort in Vermont that in 1940 gained the nation's first T-bar lift. In 1948, at the age of 15, she became the youngest female skier ever on the U.S. Olympic Team. In 1952, at the age of 19, she was on the cover of Time Magazine. Racing that year in Oslo, Norway, she became the first American alpine skier to win two Olympic gold medals.
But it was on the other side of the continent, but still in the mountains, where she made arguably her biggest splash. After living on a ranch near Winter Park and then in Aspen, she moved to Mammoth Lakes in 1968 and was persuaded to lead opposition to construction of an eight-storey condominium.
That opposition yielded a landmark ruling by the California Supreme Court, which said local projects required an environmental review. That effort made her probably the most significant and effective citizen activist in California, one water lawyer, Antonio Rossman, told the Los Angeles Times .
Eulogies mention clarity, purpose, and compassion. "She was, oh, hard as nails and a heart of gold," said Aspen's Dave Durrance, whose famous family of ski racers and photographers lived next to Lawrence. "If you were talking to her, it didn't matter if you were old or young: you had her complete focus," he told The Aspen Times.
She told various interviewers that it's not the medals you've won, but what you do with them. Her passion, after ski racing, was entirely about mountains. In California's Mono County, she was county supervisor - a position equivalent to county commissioner in other states - from 1983 to 1999.
"She was the irresistible force and the immovable object rolled into one," Mammoth Mountain chief executive Rusty Gregory told The Sheet. "I respected her for that. With all the equivocation you hear in the world, she was a breath of fresh air."