Frances Draper, in 2018 photo, has died. Credit: Patrick Campbell/University of Colorado

Frances Draper, collaborative community voice, succumbs to cancer

BOULDER — Friends and colleagues of Frances Draper Friday recalled an effective force for the work of a city. They highlighted her passion for bringing together individuals and organizations into a cohesive community force.

Draper died Wednesday evening, of cancer.

She worked for the University of Colorado Boulder, first as vice chancellor for strategic communications and then as senior strategic advisor. Her comments on retiring from CU Boulder in March after a decade of advising and communication on its behalf encapsulated her collaborative focus. She hoped her work was, “simple testament to what can be achieved by working together.”

An encomium from the university a few weeks later that could only give a taste of this influence, impact included a favorite Draper line that speaks to considering all those involved in an issue: “There’s a pony in here for everyone.”

“She strengthened the ‘town-and-gown’ relationship between the city of Boulder and the University,” said Phil di Stefano, chancellor of CU Boulder. “Frances had a way of working across different groups and always signaling that this could be a win-win for everyone.”

That relationship “has never been stronger,” he said because of “her ability to work with and understand both the university and the city and where there was common ground.”

He said a planned shared hotel and conference center and future university expansion were examples.

“Without Frances we would not be where we are with the city,” he said. “It’s because of her work.”

Strong legacy

“She has a strong legacy,” said John Tayer, president and CEO of the Boulder Chamber. He cited a half-dozen initiatives and organizations that owe some level of gratitude to Draper, including business, academic and scientific backers, the university, Boulder Economic Council, Naturally Boulder, CO-Labs Inc., and the Boulder Chamber itself.

Draper was the Chamber’s 2013 Businessperson of the Year and a “Women Who Light the Community” honoree in 2019.

Her work was “always with an eye toward collaboration” he said, whether helping advocate for innovation and lab space, boosting natural-products businesses, or “identifying strategic opportunities to work in vital areas” in the community.

One CU Boulder staffer contacted said simply, “She was awesome.”


“I’m not surprised you have ample accolades,” said Clif Harald on hearing of others’ memories of Draper.

Harald succeeded Draper in 2011 as executive director  of the Boulder Economic Council. He left the group about 18 months ago and now heads Boulder-based economic development counselors First Flatiron Consulting.

“Consider the subject: She’s like a rock star,” he said. Draper was “generous in her expression” of thanks when working with others. “She was inspiring and made a big difference in so many people’s lives.”

She moved to “sustain the values that make Boulder an environmental leader and one that lifts all of its residents,” Tayer added. “She had a unique understanding of the character of our community.”

2019 Women Who Light the Community event: [l-r] John Tayer, Phil di Stefano, Frances Draper, Karen Kruse

Personally, he found Draper “one of the most effective leaders,” he’s worked with, he said. “She was not uncomfortable asking difficult questions that most effectively addressed an issue, while defusing tension with her wry sense of humor.”

Tayer posted a remembrance on social media Friday morning with a brief note from Draper’s partner Michael Minard, who said she’d “completed her journey.”

Comments on the post cited Draper’s contributions and commitment to the community.