Park City iconic arts patron and business leader Gary Cole dies
A fifty-year resident of Park City, Gary Cole, passed away on Tuesday morning. KPCW has this tribute to a life fully lived.
Gary Cole settled in Park City in 1972 with his wife, Jana. After a road trip scoping out western mountain towns searching for a new home, they moved to town and picked Park City to spend the winter teaching skiing. Park City had few commercial interests, a yet undiscovered recreation capacity, and an unclear economic future in those days.
Cole hailed from the Seattle area and studied music and opera performance in college. Park City in the '70s was a low-key mountain town with one stoplight and an Alpha Beta grocery. Still, beyond that, the city consisted of old mining claims, a sleepy, historic, old town area with some boarded-up buildings, and about 1,200 residents. Cole Sport took hold during those early years. Gary Cole brought a unique merchandising perspective by establishing European ski clothing lines that otherwise weren't available in Park City or Utah.
Cole Sport evolved to include four stores, with the flagship on Park Avenue and Lowell. As the employee ranks grew, Cole's perspective on life and business integrated the philosophy of caring for his community, friends, employees, and family.
Cole was well-known for his baritone voice. He sang with the Park City Singers, and his fans anticipated each holiday season to revel in his solo, which was a highlight of the Christmas concert. Friend Debra Cook , who conducted the Singers for many years, said Cole continued singing lessons through his later years because it helped with memory care.
"And his voice was just as rich and as beautiful as it ever would have been--that you could ever remember. And his range was even better, even though he didn't think it was. Gary was just a gentleman in every way and always searching to be better than he was the day before. And that's one of the things that we loved about him, was his grace and his desire to do the best that he could in everything. And we could see it. We could see the ripple effect in all of our lives."
The Cole family are renowned art patrons and received many accolades for their support and contributions in enhancing performance arts in Summit County.
Egyptian Theater Executive Director Randy Barton said Cole was a transformative influence in the early days of Park City elevating it to the world-class resort town today. Cole played a critical role in establishing a community of arts and culture in Park City.
“Gary was one of the original Park City Players that became Park City Performances, that became the Egyptian Theatre as it is today. His efforts with retail and Cole Sport, the business side were almost matched by his efforts in the philanthropic and nonprofit world. He came from a background of an operatic training, graced many stages, sang many songs, and will be so missed by this community. We just owe him such a great debt of gratitude. From all of the arts and culture community, we say, here's to you break a leg, Gary Cole.”
Gary and Jana Cole received the Park City Chamber of Commerce Myles Rademan Spirit of Hospitality Award in 2015. Rademan said he’s known the Coles for decades, and they are iconic and respected businesspeople, having established Cole Sport through the years as a high-end sportswear emporium in Utah. But mostly, Rademan said their support of the arts in all forms enriches Park City in so many ways. He thinks few realize the loss the community has suffered.
"The only thing I can say is, you know, I've known him for 35 years, and he's a lovely person, and you know all the things he added to the community, especially in the arts realm."
Cook said Gary Cole led an honorable and vibrant life, and his passing during this time of year is a reminder for the community of his grace and goodness.
"He lived the life of someone of faith. And for him to go at this time of year helps us to remember the beauty and the grace of somebody who truly lived a Christ-like life, you know, gave in any way that he could to benefit the lives of others and, to redeem others in the little ways that he was always giving."
KPCW will provide updated information about memorial services as it becomes available.