Inyo Country is mourning the loss of one of its most inspiring residents and a pillar of the community.
Jill Kinmont Boothe, born Feb. 16, 1936, passed away from complications related to surgery Thursday, Feb. 9.
Boothe was born in Los Angles but grew up in Bishop, skiing and racing at Mammoth Mountain and earning herself a spot in the 1956 Winter Olympic Games. And even when that dream was cut short by a tragic accident, Boothe proved resilient and unstoppable – carving out for herself a legacy of fearlessness, compassion, determination, generosity, success and gentle spirit.
Inducted into the National Ski Hall of Fame in 1967, Boothe also became a renowned artist and well-respected educator, not to mention the inspiration for countless youth and adults through two movies and at least as many books that tell her story and encourage watchers and readers to overcome whatever challenges they have in life.
Bishop resident Chuck Kilpatrick, who attended Bishop Union High School and graduated with Boothe in 1953, said she was a hard worker and dedicated skier, even in her high school years.
“She was always wrapped up in skiing, year round, exercising and training,” Kilpatrick said. “She was one of the reasons I learned to ski.”
In the mid-’50s, Dave McCoy was in the process of moving his tow ropes for skiing from the McGee Creek area to Mammoth Mountain. Back then, Kilpatrick said, he, Boothe and others often went to McGee Creek to help compact snow in exchange for ski time.
“She was the star of the Western Ski Association, and her goal was the Olympics,” Kilpatrick said. “Even then she was a real inspiration to all of us.”
By 1955 all of Boothe’s hard work paid off and she was reigning national champion in slalom and a top prospect for a medal at the 1956 Winter Olympics.
While competing at the Snow Cup in Alta, Utah in January 1955, at the age of 18, Boothe suffered a near-fatal accident that left her in a wheelchair for the rest of her life.
The same week of her accident, Boothe was featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated Magazine, the first of several magazine covers in her life.
Kilpatrick said the crash had Boothe feeling down for a time, but it wasn’t long before she got back into school and moved on to her next great passion, teaching.
“After the accident, I think she was discouraged for a while, but then she got right back up and finished her education,” Kilpatrick said. “I think the movies helped her a lot.”
Kilpatrick said that Boothe took an active role in the movies about her life, working on set as a consultant to ensure accuracy.
After her rehabilitation, Boothe graduated from UCLA with a bachelor of arts degree in German. She then earned her teaching credentials from the University of Washington and worked as an educator in Washington and Southern California before moving back to Bishop to begin a long teaching career locally.
She served as the special education teacher from 1975-1996.
In November of 1976 she married John Boothe, and they continued to live in Bishop until health problems forced her to recently relocate to Carson City.
Former Inyo County Superintendent of Schools George Lozito, who worked with Boothe for a number of years said Boothe’s role as a teacher in the Bishop community made such an impact that students recommended and local school board agreed to name a new facility for the Inyo County Day School after her in 2004.
The Jill Kinmont Boothe School on West Line Street operates today as a school for at-risk students.
Inyo County Superintendent of Schools Terry McAteer said Boothe maintained an active role at the school, visiting at least once a month to talk to students and have lunch with them.
“She was an inspiration to them,” McAteer said. “She was always here to tell them that they can overcome their personal flaws or disabilities through education.”
Boothe was also instrumental in creating the Jill Kinmont Indian Education fund, which distributed $15,000 to 13 Native American Students from Lone Pine to Bishop in 2011 alone.
McAteer has ordered Inyo County Schools to fly their flags at half mast for a week in memory of Boothe and all she has done for local students.
Lozito, said “she had to be one of the most influential teachers I’ve ever met.”
Lozito went on to say that Boothe’s “personality and her strength” made a lasting impact on countless students.
Two years ago, for the second annual Community Reads program, the Inyo County Office of Education selected “The Other Side of the Mountain” by E.G, Valens as the book it promoted.
The goal of the program was to get as many people in the community as possible to read Boothe’s inspirational story.
“We actually had to have the book re-printed for Community Reads because it was out of print,” McAteer said. “Some of the reprint copies are still available at Spellbinder. Jill has such an incredible story. She climbs to the pinnacle of her love, skiing, and has a tragedy. She then overcomes her handicap to teach kids. It’s unbelievable. Then she became an artist.”
Lynn Cooper, executive director for the Inyo Council for the Arts, said Boothe was always a talented artist with an eye for landscapes and florals.
“The last show that she had was a retrospective that had paintings she did before the accident,” Cooper said.
After the accident, Boothe was forced to teach herself to paint again, using a special brace that allowed her to hold a brush.
Despite her handicap, Boothe was a prolific painter, hosting regular shows at the Arts Council, contributing to the Altrusa Art show each year and earning the honor of Altrusa’s “Featured Artist” twice, and hosting her own spring art show with friends and fellow artists Carol Taylor and Mickey Short, and photographer Tina Slee.
Taylor, a close friend, said Boothe was a skilled painter, known for her “beautiful, clear blue aquamarine skies.”
Taylor said Boothe began with pen and ink drawings with intricate detail before picking up the water color landscapes that she has been known for locally.
“She painted from photographs of the Eastern Sierra, places she could not visit on her own,” Taylor said. “She knew all the lakes and all the scenes, and friends would bring her pictures to paint.”
Taylor also said that Jill’s husband John deserves a lot of credit, as he was always supportive. John built Jill a custom easel that allowed her to paint from her wheelchair, helped clean her paintings when they were completed and helped get her with the brace that allowed her to paint.
“John was a wonderful supporter and he encouraged her all the time,” Taylor said.
When it came to her disability, Taylor said Boothe “never complained. She was always upbeat an positive. She had a great attitude.
“I know Jill through art, painting and doing the snow and we both shared a love of skiing,” Short said. “She comes from a family of artists, her mother was a water color painter and her brother is also an artist. Jill, she was pretty amazing.”
Short said she saw the Boothes at least once a week, when she delivered fresh eggs to them. She said she was never surprised, but always in awe of Boothe’s optimistic attitude and kind nature.
“Nothing would get her down,” Short said. “I think she’s an inspiration not only to the women in the community, but the men too. She was always tough and up-beat. Maybe she’s young and beautiful and skiing in heaven. Hopefully they’re having a better season up there than we are.”
While Boothe was not a member of Altrusa International of the Eastern Sierra, she was a huge advocate for the organization.
Ruth DeCray, Altrusa’s second-vice president, said Boothe was always willing to donate paintings to the organization and, in fact, recently donated a print that will be on display at Altrusa’s annual tea party.
“She had such a great life and she made the most of everything,” DeCray said. “She was amazing.”
Altrusa will be holding a moment of silence in Boothe’s honor at its tea today.
In addition to shows with Altrusa and the Arts Council, Boothe hosted an annual show at her home each spring to feature paintings done by Short, Taylor and herself.
“Jill absolutely loved doing those art shows,” Short said. “She said it was a great excuse for a party and people loved to go out and see her, but she loved to meet them even more.”
Those who wish to hear Boothe’s inspirational story can watch the movies “The Other Side of the Mountain” (1975), and “The Other Side of the Mountain Part II” (1978), both starring Marilyn Hassett and read “The Other Side of The Mountain” by Valens.
Boothe would have turned 76 next week. Boothe’s birthday, Feb. 16, was declared locally as Jill Kinmont Boothe Day in 2010.
She is survived by her husband, John, and many other relatives in the Bishop area.
(The Inyo Register recognizes that Boothe touched countless lives in the Owens Valley and across the globe. Unfortunately, it would be impossible to tell all of the stories of Boothe’s work in the community within these pages. Those who would like to share their memories of Boothe are invited to write in to honor one of the strongest pillars and biggest inspirations in Inyo County’s history. Remembrances may sent to: firstname.lastname@example.org .)