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Miggs Durrance, photographer

Passing Date: 
Tuesday, November 12, 2002

Miggs Durrance

Photographer covered the world

By Dick Dorworth

Margaret “Miggs” Jennings Durrance passed away peacefully in Carbondale, Colorado on Monday, November 11, 2002 at the age of 85. She had suffered from Mylar dysplasia for the past 10 years and was diagnosed with leukemia in August. She was surrounded by her family at the time of her death.

Born in Oakland, California on February 28, 1917, Miggs is survived by her husband of more than 60 years, Dick Durrance, two sons, Dick Jr. and Dave, and three grand children.

Miggs and her husband Dick are icons of American skiing. Dick was the premier American skier of his time, and Miggs was named an alternate on the U.S. Olympic Ski Team of 1940 after only two years on skis. Because of World War II those Olympics were never held. Miggs and Dick met in Sun Valley in 1938 and lived there off and on until after their marriage in 1940. They maintained many friendships in the area and visited Sun Valley for the last time just a year ago. Because the 1940 Olympics had been cancelled, they stayed in Sun Valley that winter to train and work, Dick as the Sun Valley publicity photographer and Miggs as the movie ticket taker in the Opera House.

Later that same year they moved to Alta, Utah to develop, manage and establish every aspect of the fledgling ski resort, including the lodge and ski school. The first American ski troops, Company B of the 503rd paratrooper Battalion, trained in Alta under the guidance of Dick Durrance. During World War II the Durrances lived in Seattle where Dick worked for Boeing. Their two children were born during the war and Miggs, in addition to being a housewife and mother, began to develop her own career as a photographer. By the early 1950s Miggs had established a reputation and career as one of America’s premier photographers, equal to that of her more famous husband, and, later, that of her oldest son, Dick Jr.

After World War II the Durrances moved to Aspen, where Dick was hired by industrialist Walter Paepcke to run the Aspen Company which, under Durrance, became America’s leading ski resort. Miggs’ black and white photographs from the early days of Aspen are collector’s items.

In 1950 Dick resigned from the Aspen Company in order to pursue his passion for photography. As a consequence, the Durrances lived in Europe during the early 1950s where Dick made several movies and Miggs pursued her free lance photography career. Miggs’ work appeared in Life, Sports Illustrated, Time and National Geographic, among many other publications. Though the Durrances lived in New York City and Europe for extended periods of time, they always came back to Aspen. The Durrances lived a life of adventure and travel, both together and individually. They traveled in and photographed Russia, Nepal, South America, Africa, the mid-East, Scandinavia and throughout the United States.

Miggs was a member of the first group of American private citizens, all of them women, to visit China after it opened in 1972. Only Richard Nixon’s entourage preceded them. Among the women on that tour was well known oceanographer Sylvia Earle and Margie McNamara, wife of then Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara. When they had an audience with Madame Zhou Enlai, Miggs reported that Madame Zhou, “…had a great deal to say about wars, very pointedly aimed at Margie.”

She once said of her career as a photographer, “My cameras took me into wonderful exotic places, and I was fortunate enough to have the pictures published in Time, Life, Holiday Realities, National Geographic, and some of the others, sometimes as covers. I was sent to Alaska, to Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan. It’s been an enormously satisfying career.”

Miggs Durrance was a warm hearted, adventurous, talented and fun loving woman whose intelligence enlightened every conversation. She was successful as a mother, a wife, an athlete and as a professional photographer. She lived an “enormously satisfying” life and will be missed by her family and her many friends throughout the world.