Juanita Ainsley, a local artist who also worked as an occupational therapist and psychologist, died earlier this week. She was 80 years old.
La Plata County Coroner Jann Smith said a welfare check conducted Wednesday found Ainsley dead at her home in the Forest Lakes subdivision, northeast of Durango.
Ainsley, who had been dealing with health issues, had ingested a sodium nitrate powder mixed with water. She had died the same day she was found, Smith said.
The death was ruled a suicide, Smith said. No autopsy is required, she said.
Ainsley, aside from her acclaimed career as a painter and work in the medical field, was a strong proponent of the aid-in-dying legislation that was overwhelmingly passed by Colorado voters in 2016.
The act allows a terminally ill person with a prognosis of six months or less to live to request aid-in-dying medication and voluntarily end his or her life by self-administering those medications.
“It’s in their medicine cabinet till the day comes they might need it, or they may never use it,” Ainsley told The Durango Herald in 2015. “But there’s peace of mind knowing it’s there.”
Ainsley wrote her own obituary before her death.
“The guiding force of my life has been the relentless search for truth. My life and work have been a never ending discovery of the human capacity to experience tragedy and grief and to emerge stronger for it. Art, especially visual art, and nature have provided the important esthetics (sic) in my life.
“I hope that I have managed to do more good than harm in my efforts to help others. I get some pleasure in the realization that there is a kind of immortality when helpful influences ripple through the lives and relationships of others.”
Ainsley grew up in Virginia, but spent most of her life in Colorado.
Longtime friend Judith Reynolds said Ainsley was a hospital administrator at Craig Hospital near Denver and spent years as an occupational therapist and psychologist.
Reynolds strongest connection to Ainsley was her art, which, Reynolds said, was defined by its youthful, childlike quality that was also sophisticated.
Reynolds, in a review that was published in The Durango Herald in 2013, wrote that Ainsley’s art “combines her own childlike schemata with sophisticated imaging techniques. The result is a body of work with tremendous narrative power ... Somehow, Ainsley has tapped into deep imaginative resources and has found a style and process to bring forth wild juxtapositions.”
After discovering Ainsley’s art, the two became friends.
“I remember being surprised to learn she was an older person because her artwork was so youthful, accomplished and joyful,” Reynolds said Friday. “Juanita was a very smart, very intelligent person who was a mature, autonomous, responsible adult.
“She was one of the most remarkable people I’ve ever met.”
Ainsley was not married, Reynolds said, but she did adopt two boys when she was working as a counselor for at-risk youths. Her adopted son, David, died in 2007 at the age of 37 while swimming in the Animas River.
“The greatest passions of my life, the highest and the lowest, were the birth and then the untimely death of my remarkable son, David,” Ainsley wrote in her obituary.
Reynolds said Ainsley has a brother and sister in Virginia. She was unsure where Ainsley’s other son lived.
“She was very intelligent, highly creative and very kind,” Reynolds said. “She’s going to be sorely missed.”