Robert Sharpe, first confirmed fatality in Marshall fire, a devoted conservationist who had “many verses left to write”
- January 7, 2022
Robert Sharpe, a devoted conservationist, prayer group leader and outspoken citizen who never shied away from weighing in on local affairs, died Dec. 30 in the Boulder County home he cherished for four decades — the first confirmed fatality from the Marshall fire, authorities announced Friday. He was 69.
“I knew as soon as I understood the fire had passed over his property he would not have fled,” Milton Sharpe, Robert’s younger brother, told The Denver Post in an email. “I told one of my brothers, ‘They will find him dead in his driveway with a hose in his hand.’ ”
The Boulder County coroner on Friday identified Sharpe as the person whose partial remains were discovered this week during a search for two people missing and feared dead in the wake of the devastating Marshall fire.
Investigators this week found human remains in the 5900 block of Marshall Road, and “DNA analysis and scene circumstances” led the coroner to identify Sharpe as the deceased individual, the coroner’s office said.
The cause and manner of death have not yet been officially determined, the coroner’s office said.
Sharpe owned a house at 5941 Marshall Drive, county property records show. That house was listed as “destroyed” in a preliminary list of damaged and destroyed properties released by the Boulder County Sheriff’s Office two days after the fire.
One other person is still considered missing as authorities continue to wade through the wreckage. Friends and relatives have publicly identified her as Nadine Turnbull, 91, an Original Town Superior resident whose home also was destroyed by the wildfire.
A 40-year Boulder resident, Sharpe was an activist, a traveler and a spiritual man who loved salsa dancing, his brother said. He fought hard against perceived injustices, striving to be “a good steward of the environment, of his government and his community.”
“He said, ‘I will do my best for whomever God puts in front of me,’ ” Milton Sharpe wrote.
An avid follower of Native American traditions and ceremonies, Robert Sharpe hosted sweat lodges at his home, where people would come together to pray and make community in the Boulder foothills.
He was well-read, Milton Sharpe said, and enjoyed studying an array of topics.
“I remember how he looked out for me as his 7-year-younger brother,” Milton said in the email. “He would patiently try to teach me things!”
Sharpe was a regular over the years at Boulder City Council meetings and as a caller to KGNU, the Colorado community radio station. Sam Fuqua, KGNU’s former station manager and news director, said he couldn’t recall a time over his 30 years at the station when Sharpe wasn’t calling in to opine on environmental issues, politics or local development.
“He’s the kind of caller you want to have call in to your shows,” Fuqua said. “Someone who’s listening, thoughtful and connecting dots that nobody else in the conversation is connecting.”
“A throwback from a past era”
Born Oct. 12, 1952, in Oakland, California, Robert Sharpe was the fifth of six children to Rev. William Sunday Sharpe and Thelma Ritchie Sharpe.
His parents were missionaries in a Wesleyan Methodist religious sect called the Pillar of Fire, and, in 1954, the family was reassigned from California to the church’s western headquarters in Westminster. There, Robert Sharpe attended elementary and high school.
Renee Fajardo first met Sharpe some 25 years ago when her kids were in Odyssey of the Mind, a problem-solving program for students. Sharpe didn’t have his own children, but he helped coach the teams, teaching kids about plants, water and conservation.
Sharpe wasn’t married, didn’t have his own family, but “it’s almost like he was married to the land,” Fajardo said. “That was his significant other.”
Sharpe was fiercely protective of his land and his lifestyle, Fajardo said. And he knew everything about that canyon — the mining history, the geography.
“It was a living, breathing historic entity to him,” Fajardo said.
He spent his life self-employed, his family said, working as a roofer, a renovator, a jack-of-all-trades. His property was filled with parts and pieces, cars and machines he collected over the years.
“He’s something of a throwback from a past era,” Fajardo said.
Their work together through Odyssey of the Mind helped inspire Fajardo to launch a career in indigenous studies, she said. She’s currently the coordinator for the “Journey Through Our Heritage” program at Metropolitan State University of Denver, which takes students to the San Luis Valley and New Mexico to learn about their history, culture and ancestors.
“We’re woven into this big tapestry with each other,” Fajardo said. “When one thread starts, you can’t tell, but you step back after 30 years and realize that we wove this beautiful tapestry together.”
“Such a catastrophic, unbelievably sad end”
Nick Monastra recalled playing at Sharpe’s Boulder home as a kid. When Monstra’s father died a decade ago, Sharpe dealt with the police and the coroner, shielding the 23-year-old during a particularly devastating time.
“It meant the world to me,” Monastra said.
The two lost touch over the past 10 years, but Monastra still thinks about something Sharpe used to say: Instead of using the phrase “kill two birds with one stone,” Sharpe would say, “Feed two birds with one seed.”
“The sentiment is beautiful and right,” Monastra said. “That’s how he saw the value in things.”
Milton Sharpe remembers his brother’s wonderful belly laugh. He was always smiling, and often showed up to the homes of friends at Christmastime with stockings full of presents.
Robert Sharpe had an ambition to collect as much family memorabilia as he could find, amassing thousands of pages of documents. His family believes he died trying to save this collection.
“Dear brother, this is such a catastrophic, unbelievably sad end to your story!” Milton Sharpe wrote. “I still can’t wrap my head around it. You had many verses left to write, Robert.”
Robert Sharpe’s family requested that anyone interested in making donations in his honor can do so with the Boulder County Wildfire Fund.