Aspen Times Weekly: Remembering Mary Eshbaugh Hayes |

Aspen Times Weekly: Remembering Mary Eshbaugh Hayes

by Andy Stone

Grassroots TV produced this feature story about Mary Hayes in 1974:

IT IS NOT OFTEN that words fail me. But today, they do. Not because there are none to say about Mary Eshbaugh Hayes. Rather, there are too many.

As you’ll read here — and see clearly in the smile on Mary’s face throughout the years — Aspen lost a piece of its soul with her death Jan. 22 at the age of 86.

So, in thinking about how to introduce this tribute, I recalled — with bittersweet memory — 14 simple words that Mary shared with me after a dear friend and colleague died unexpectedly a year ago this week: “Death is a part of life, which is why every day is worth celebrating.”

I was crying. Mary was, well, Mary — sad, yet stoic; wise, yet worried (for me, I believe); sweet, yet strong. She had tears in her eyes, yet joy in her soft voice as we shared stories of a life well-lived.

In those words, I find comfort. Mary Eshbaugh Hayes was the epitome of a live well-lived; I hope the lessons she taught me throughout our friendship will inspire me to follow in her footsteps.

Even greater, though, is the legacy she leaves for the Aspen community. She perfected the journalistic art of capturing the soul of this town through her stories of its people and events — documenting decades of history through her passion and realization of how special and unique our community is. She showed us that people matter most, friendships are worth ore than money, fun can be found anywhere, and every day is worth embracing. For this, we are all grateful. Thank you, Mary…may you rest in peace. — Jeanne McGovern

Mary and I have a great deal in common and we loved sharing our commonalities. We both grew up in western New York. We both went to Syracuse. We both are passionate about community and understand the value of history. Mary committed her adult life to recording the progress of modern Aspen with her camera, documenting events for decades. I think she really wanted to write more than she wanted to photograph and we spent many hours talking about recording the stories of our youth — but never putting pen to paper. A little over a decade ago, we both took a memoir course at AWF’s Summer Words. It served to be the foundation for us to chide each other about “getting it done” and to bemoan the busy life that prevented dedication to the project. After Jim died, Mary vowed to get it done and the last time I saw her in person this fall she was giddy about having started. I wonder how far she got?

Clearly one of her greatest gifts to the community will be the archiving of her photos at Aspen Historical Society. All 65,000 of them! They chronicle more than five decades at an important community level that will provide a profound insight into Aspen’s lifestyle as the town has grown from a small farm community into an illustrious resort. Every picture is dated and the subjects are identified. That fact alone makes the gift priceless. She was very focused on making this gift and concerned — wanting to help AHS get the archival improvements that would support the gift. When Mary began organizing these pictures (perhaps a decade ago), many of us started receiving random envelopes addressed by her unmistakable hand. I would open the surprise missive to discover a photo of me from 1969 or 1978! Such whimsical thoughtful fun.

In December I wrote a cheerful note to Mary from my new home in Mexico. I heard she was not well and I wanted to check in. I made an off-hand comment to her about feeling discarded, forgotten so quickly, when I returned to Aspen this past summer after six months away. She replied with classic Mary practicality, “start writing letters to the editor, Georgia, so you are not out of sight, out of mind!” I told her I was leaving that task to my husband and would elect for oblivion instead.

– Georgia Hanson, friend and former director of the Aspen Historical Society

Mary Eshbaugh Hayes was one of the most interesting women I have ever known. Although, seeing her little form walk around town, many times, pulling her small cart that she used for delivering books to various clients, and always stopping along the way to say her “hellos”, was a gift to me.

One would never realize that she was and had been one of the most powerful people in our town for the past 60 years. Mary, through her words, stories, and photographs did more to shape the story of Aspen, than almost any one of the past century.

Mary and I spent many afternoons in the lobby of my small hotel, just visiting. We would call these afternoons, “catch-up time.”

She was like a Vidalia onion…..sweet to the core, and full of oh so many layers that would be pealed back and discovered through the years of our friendship.

Her mind was sharp and fresh and always current…. always eager to go on to the next thing. Mary and I had been connected for over 40 years. How lucky I am to have known her well, and been counted among her close friends.

Mary had a calmness of being about her, that I have rarely seen in people that were not spiritual healers. This calmness followed her around like a little cloud above her head.

She was born into a loving family on a lake in upstate New York. Her father was a highly respected engineer, and she admired him greatly. Learning and study were her passions, and in her quiet but deliberate way, when she was old enough after college, she made her way West.

The rest is history.

Mary married Jim, had 5 children, and worked her way up in the Aspen Times until she became it’s editor for many years.

Always kind, always genuine, but always truthful without being judgmental.

A friend said to me that coming back to Aspen will be like coming back and missing a mountain.

Mary was a mountain….was of Aspen tallest.

She won’t be replaced.

– Terry Butler, longtime friend

Mary had a knack for knowing when to work hard and when to have fun.

Back in the days before we revived a daily newspaper at The Aspen Times, the weekly would grow to an ungodly size around Christmas and New Year’s Day. Mary and her loyal band of reporters would dust off any and every story idea they had stashed away and write ‘em up for the monster editions. Mary had to coordinate the massive jumble. It was always chaotic but always turned out well.

I think some of her zest for working at The Aspen Times for decades faded soon after we started the daily in November 1988. Over the next three years, the weekly’s star faded as the daily grew in prominence. The experience of working at the paper changed. We were once a rag-tag cast of characters that worked progressively harder as the weekly deadline drew near. That was replaced by a daily grind to churn out copy to fill the blank pages every day. The characters changed. The pressure grew. The feel was altered. The newspaper, like just about everything else in Aspen, became big business.

I’m not sure it was what Mary wanted anymore, so she stepped away from the daily rigors and concentrated on her column and books.

Even with a less cohesive staff, we still had lots of fun. I’ll always remember Mary dancing at an outrageous office Christmas party at the Flying Dog Brew Pub with reporter Cameron Burns, who was dressed as a gorilla and maneuvering into inappropriate poses with “partners.”

Mary’s influence extended beyond the Aspen Times to the Aspen Daily News. She maintained she was responsible for the competing newspaper’s classic tag line, “If you don’t want it printed, don’t let it happen.” Mary claimed she uttered the line to Daily News co-founder Dave Danforth when they discussing how easy it is for a reporter to make enemies. He liked it so well he inscribed it on his paper’s flag, she said. It’s another enduring legacy from a woman who created many.

– Scott Condon, Aspen Times reporter

One of my favorite things about Mary was her pencil. Despite writing and doing what she did for so SO long she was still very much aware that we are capable of errors AND that spelling someone’s name wrong is a terrible insult…so she used a pencil, just in case she made a mistake. I think there is something for us all to learn from that.

– Louise Walker, Aspen Times ad rep.

I will never forget the first time I went to Mary’s house many years ago, I walked in the front door and directly across the room against the far wall was a small chest of drawers and low and behold in the bottom drawer was one of her babies – sleeping. She said there was no other place to put her and she could keep an eye on her there. Mary and Jim probably did not have the space or the money for anything else so I assumed that all the other children were brought up there also !

Mary also told wonderful stories of how so many of the women in town were jealous of Mary for “landing” Jim and she even told us that one of her friends tried to climb in a window in the house attempting to get to Jim to try to lure him away from Mary….. and visions of sugarplums danced in their heads.

– Dottie Wolcott, Aspen Times “den mother”

It seemed that not a lot fazed Mary, and that was evident one summer evening on her routine walk from her house on Bleeker to Carl’s. I was in the alley behind the Times watching two really big bears loitering near the sidewalk when Mary came strolling by. “Mary, watch out!” I yelled. She just looked at the bruins and walked right on by, within a foot of them. I was amazed. But now that I think about it, MEH took on way bigger things in life than a couple of old bears.

– Carolyn Sackariason, former Aspen Times reporter

“Hello Aunt Mary!” I would say whenever I saw her.

Though not related, we did share a last name. And, though not her nephew, she indulged me in my subterfuge. In fact, as the years went by I think she actually began to see me as family. I know I felt that way about her.

Mary was more than a friend she was a symbol of all that I love about Aspen. Easy going, enthusiastic but deadpan honest, she saw it all in detail. And chronicled everything. Slightly eccentric with her perfectly cut gray bangs, black garb, rimmed glasses, and a camera perpetually attached to her neck, she recorded the best of this place.

While not a big drinker, Mary always asked me about wine, especially during the Food & Wine Classic when she inevitably would quiz me about what was new, who should she shoot and what wines should she try. I remember, not long after Jim had passed, that I ran into Mary on an icy street between her house and Carl’s Pharmacy. She was inching along precariously with a brown paper bag, obviously with a bottle of wine in it.

“Taking to the bottle Aunt Mary?” I asked as I took the bag and her arm and crept with her towards her house. “No, but I have a sore back and I read about one of your recommendations so I bought a bottle and some aspirin.” I chuckled and escorted her into the warmth of her home where we sat in front of the fire as she poured a glass and showed me a photo of her beloved Jim. He was hanging upside down from the back of a single chair on lift 1A. She smiled as she gazed at it with pure love, “He used to scare me to death when he did that.”

Word is that, come spring, she will be joining Jim in the Aspen Grove Cemetery. I remember her once telling me that it was the best place in Aspen to live.

We laughed at the irony.

– Kelly J. Hayes, Aspen Times Weekly wine columnist

When I first started writing for The Aspen Times arts and entertainment section, Mary came upstairs to introduce herself. She had that Friday’s A&E section in her hand. “I wanted to ask you something,” she said, pointing to a story I’d written that week. “Is this a typo?

Is your name actually spelled A-M-I-E-E?” When I confirmed that yes, it was indeed correct, she responded with a smile and said flatly, “That name is an editor’s nightmare.” She always joked about my “typo name,” especially when she was taking photos for “Around Aspen.” We bonded over our memories of being students at Syracuse University, and her endless stories of Aspen back in the good ol’ days. Always curious, always sweet, always a friendly face at Aspen soirées. I will miss seeing those glasses from across the room, people of all ranks smiling eagerly for her point and shoot camera and the battered pocket notebooks she carried in which Mary meticulously jotted down the correct spelling of her subject’s names. Those parties will never be as much fun without her. Rest in peace, MEH.

– Amiee White Beazley, Aspen Times Weekly travel writer

As an employee of the Aspen Times for over 25 years I had the wonderful opportunity to work with MEH. Since I worked in the production department, it was always a treat to help her with her anniversary ad to her husband, Jim Hayes. Her family was so important to her. Recently she told me how proud she was to have three grandsons graduate from Notre Dame.

One year she asked me to go to Filmfest with her. It was such a honor and a privilege to be with her – everyone knew her. Imagine my surprise to find out that the movie was about her life…. done by a young lady who followed Mary around Aspen. Afterwards, they interviewed Mary on the stage of the Wheeler. She said she usually didn’t want to be in front of the camera. She thought that it was her job to a mentor to anyone who had a passion for the newspaper business.

Growing up she said her dad had cut out and saved National Geographic magazine photos and stories. AT a very young age, she knew she wanted to be a writer and a photographer.

She had an incredible work ethic – and when she retired from being editor of the paper…. She was delighted with the gift she received – a very nice Mickey House watch (she was the same age as Mickey Mouse).

She always wore the same big round shaped glasses, and she did make me smile when she said, Just you wait they’ll be back in fashion again.

On her 50 years of working at The Aspen Times – we all wore big round-shaped sunglasses to her party, Hawaiian leis and buttons that read “It’s not a party without MEH.”

Thank you… MEH… you are one of Aspen’s treasures…. you left us each with a photo legacy of memories of the way we were.

– Gayle Johnson

“The Story of Aspen” written by Mary Eshbaugh Hayes with photos by Chris Cassatt was one of the first books I bought when I settled into town nearly 17 years ago. Aspen’s lively history had my attention from day one, it felt here, then and now. And among all the wonderful black and white photos n the book, a few really stood out to me and one in particular was by Mary Hayes. “Sheep on Bleeker St” was a slice of Aspen Life in the mid 60s that showed Mary’s children Clayton Hayes with his arm around his little sister Jess bates as a heard of sheep parade down Bleeker Street across from the Hayes home. So when Mary contacted me about a year ago to make a set of prints in my darkroom from the original negative, I was truly honored and all in. The negative was in OK shape, had some marks and even a tear from a much earlier darkroom mishap but entirely printable as it was larger than the usual 35mm types having coming from her old Rolleiflex twin lens (think Vivian Maier).

Figuring the tear made handling the negative a reasonably risky proposition, I took my time cleaning the negative and then made a good high resolution scan of it before taking the it into the darkroom. After taking my time in getting the cropping right and making some tests to match it to her other prints, I made a full 16×20. I am no stranger to the beautiful occurrence of watching an image come up in the developing tray, but this one….this was truly special. Under a the warm glow of the modern LED safelights in my tiny darkroom, the image of Jess, Clayton and the sheep gradually appeared through the shimmering liquid like the opening of a time capsule, It looked new and old at the same time. I had seen the image plenty of times, but in seeing it come to life right before my eyes, I felt a kinship as I re-lived what it must have been like when Mary saw it in her darkroom for the first time.

Mary was one of the most inspirational people in Aspen for me personally. Always gracious and at ease, humble and talented. Her connection to all things Aspen amazed me and it was truly a privilege to have known her and worked with her.

The photos above are prints on the drying screen in my darkroom.

– by Daniel Bayer, former Aspen Times photographer


Mary was a guide for me as I navigated the crazy small-town, big ego world of Aspen journalism. Along with Bil Dunaway, I will always think of Mary when I think about the spirit of The Aspen Times. – Allyn Harvey

We’ve lost an irreplaceable friend and citizen in Mary. Her amazing mind, sweet humor and capacity for kindness inspired a deep admiration that will be unforgettable to me and I’m sure to the many who knew and loved her. – Margaret Wilson Reckling

She was my earliest and longest memory of an Aspen citizen. She was everybody friend, and we lost a deep link to the past. – Kathy Vagneur Henderson

God bless. When I delivered Meals on Wheels on Fridays, Mary, God rest her soul, would sometimes be waiting out on the street so that I would not have to park my pick-up. What an amazing soul! – Lee Mulcahy

Mary played such a huge part of the fabric of Aspen. It’s pretty darn amazing how many stories, articles, and photos she contributed over the years. – Francois Pelletier

Sad news, yet happy as I envision Mary and Jim dancing happily away in heaven! – Kim McHale Baillargeon

She will be missed.. Aspen has lost a friend, a character and a little bit of it’s heart. – Shae Singer

A true Aspen legend. – Frank Eriksen

End of an era. – David Dyer

Sitting here in Shanghai I miss many things about Aspen. Most of all, the people, and MEH to me represents all that remains good about that little mountain town. She was everyone’s friend yet I always felt special when I was around her. I wear the belt buckle Jim made for me regularly and it reminds me of two very special people. We will all miss her … a personification of that expression “a life well lived.” – Robert White

Mary was loved by all and will surely be missed. – Patti and Jay Webster

I am very sad about this. Mary has been a fixture of Aspen for so long. – Deborah Farrell

Aspen has lost a historical icon: Mary Eshbaugh Hayes. Award-winning writer, author, columnist, photographer and editor, Mary knew everyone in town, and everyone knew Mary. With her camera in tow, she photographed Aspen at its best and Aspen at its core for The Aspen Times. With her passing, at age 86, we’ve lost a part of our hearts. One summer long ago our son Austin worked as an intern at The Aspen Times. Mary took an interest in him and every year thereafter she always asked about him, wanting to know everything about his life to date. She was a kind and caring soul. She was full of life and youthful despite her years, To know Mary was to know a dear and trusted friend. Mary, may you live forevermore in the minds and hearts of every Aspenite. Bless you for giving us all your kindness and loving spirit. – Alan & Alicia Sirkin

I have only lived in the RF Valley for four years. I met Mary in the GWS Hot springs pool and spent many happy hours with her there. She made me feel at home. I had made a lifetime friend in a very short time. Most lovely woman. I miss her too. Many blessings Mary! Om. – Vid Weatherwax

She was always so sweet. I met her n my tap class and we perform at the Wheeler opera house together what a fixture and how much we will miss her. – Cassie Davenport

It’s so hard to imagine Aspen without Mary. A truly amazing woman. – Michael Wingo

Mary was part of Aspen’s fabric. It won’t be the same without her. – Joyce Semple

We will all miss Mary. – Tim David

A true Aspen Legend. – Pamela Herr

What an amazing woman and will be missed! – Kellie Hassinger Smith

Some 40 years ago, she was a mentor to this very young newspaper editor. She was the consummate community journalist, intelligent, intuitive, a patient and supportive teacher and contact through Colorado Press Women. Grateful to have crossed paths with her. – Joanne York Williams

She was a lovely soul, may she rest in peace. – Deborah Poleri

Aspen Times Weekly

This week in Aspen history

“Without any exception the worst snow storm known since the advent of the railroad west of Leadville has been raging over the crest of the continental divide since last Thursday,” asserted the Aspen Tribune on January 31, 1899.

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