Colson: A letter to Mary Hayes
Dear Mary: It’s been a while since we got together for a chat, and now we can’t because you’re gone, on a trip to places where I can’t follow.
I’ve been thinking a lot about you lately, and about how long we’ve been friends, and about how you really are the one person who, besides myself and my wife, Anne, could ever claim responsibility for keeping me here in the Roaring Fork Valley for all these years.
I’ve been thinking about the time when we first met, in 1980, when the late Bil Dunaway, at your urging, hired me away from my first job in the valley, the old Glenwood Post daily newspaper in Glenwood Springs, to be the editor and manager of The Rifle Telegram weekly.
I’d grown tired of the corporate ownership of the Post (Stauffer Communications of Kansas) and was thinking of quitting and moving on. But I was eager to try my hand at being editor, so I jumped.
Being owned by Dunaway and Mountain States Communications, the Telegram was produced and printed up at The Aspen Times, his flagship paper where you were the managing editor. And it was when I drove up to Aspen every Tuesday in the morning dark, to oversee production, that we first became friends.
I later was hired as editor at the Valley Journal, another Dunaway-owned publication and again with your backing, a job that kept me around after the oil shale boom went bust and I was thinking about taking a friend’s advice and heading to Los Angeles to try my hand at script writing for Hollywood.
After a couple of years at the VJ, I was again thinking about moving on when I encountered you at the Hot Springs Pool in Glenwood Springs, and you asked me if I’d like to come and work at The Aspen Times.
That was 1985, and my life took on a whole new color and cast that year as a result of that one question.
Going to work for the Times, with you at the helm, wasn’t really what could be called WORK.
No, it felt like being adopted by a band of slightly bent media maniacs living in the midst of an opulent, resortified fever of a type that I had never seen before coming to Colorado.
Mary, I don’t know how many times I said this in those years, and since, but you were the Den Mother, a wise and patient vixen watching over our little den of goofy pups.
And watch over us you did, very carefully, because there was no telling what we might get into if left entirely to our own devices.
Every week at our Friday staff breakfast, following the rigors of Thursday’s production and printing adventures, you would sit us down and make us think about the coming week’s stories, when all we wanted to do was get outside and go skiing or mountain biking, depending on the season.
You kept our keels straight, or as straight as you could, forcing us to come up with a list of stories to fill the next massive edition.
Looking back, I’m not sure how you did it, keeping a lid on all those egos. We boys were all testosterone and edgy physicality, the girls were a little more restrained but equally adventurous and boisterous, and the times were such that there was really nothing we wouldn’t try for a laugh or a good high.
Even as you reined in our madder impulses, you and Dunaway allowed us the freedom to cover Aspen in ways it probably had never seen before, and likely will never see again.
And you, with the Around Aspen column cataloging and categorizing the high society that surrounded us, and the innumerable features about the people who made Aspen tick, you were not only our chief wrangler, you also were right there in the thick of the work.
Off and on we worked side-by-side at the Times, for more than 20 of my 36 years in the valley, and I never saw you crack. Sometimes you’d get a little frustrated at the raw insanity that occasionally took over the place, and you’d crack the whip if you had to, but all in all you took everything in stride and kept it moving toward the weekly (and then daily) goal of telling a town’s stories to itself and to the world.
Above all that, of course, you were a friend, someone to go to with questions or problems, host of a really great wedding party when Anne and I finally tied the knot, cheerleader for The Aspen Times ski team when we’d compete at Colorado Press Association events; this list goes on and on.
I’ll miss you, Mary, and I hope that whatever you encounter next will be in keeping with your own innate goodness and wonderfully open heart.
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Only in Aspen can you shop for a Rolex, candles and cashmere with your cannabis.