I have a hero? Well, yes, I do
I don’t have much use for heroes. It’s not that I’m some kind of cranky cynic. I cry at sad movies and choke up when they play “The Star-Spangled Banner” (really).But heroes can be tricky business. We trust our heroes too much. We believe what they say, we follow their lead without asking questions. So, I don’t have much use for heroes.But if I did, one of my heroes would be Bil Dunaway, the man who was once the owner, editor and publisher of The Aspen Times.Bil Dunaway is one hell of a guy. And please note the use of the present tense. This is not a eulogy. Bil is very much alive – and he is very much one hell of a guy.I’m prejudiced, of course. Bil gave me my first real newspaper job more than 30 years ago. He lured me away from pumping gas at Conner’s Chevron with a chance to work many more hours for a lot less money. How could I resist?But Bil’s not a hero because he gave me a job.Bil Dunaway is one of those genuine original “Aspen” people. He’s one of the people who made Aspen the place it is – and I’m talking about the good parts of this town: the character, the vitality, the spirit, not the fur coats and private jets.Let me start with the newspaper part of the story – but believe me, there’s much more. I’ll get to the rest.Bil bought The Aspen Times back in the 1950s, when Aspen was a small town with big dreams – and the Times was, well, a small-town paper without any dreams at all. Bil took over the paper and ran it with his personal brand of high energy and reckless determination.Back then, Aspen’s government was a bunch of good old boys who often made decisions in secret, based on what they thought was best.I’m not trying to throw rocks at the old City Council. They meant well, and they were doing things they way they always had. But Bil Dunaway played a big part in dragging them into the modern age.When the council told everyone to leave so they could discuss city business in private, Bil stood up and protested. He told them that public business should be done in public.They still threw him out, but he fought them all the way, every time. And little by little, Aspen got a more open city government.Bil covered the news, even when people wanted to keep embarrassing things out of the paper.When there were questions about Aspen’s water supply, Bil Dunaway made sure the truth was in the paper … even if the truth wasn’t pleasant. And if Aspen was embarrassed by that, well, the water system got cleaned up.I could go on, but I’m running out of space and I haven’t gotten to the rest of Bil’s story.Bil was a ski racer. Back in the early 1950s (after serving with the 10th Mountain Division in World War II), he raced the European race circuit – the events that are now the heart of the World Cup. He skied the world’s major downhills, on wooden skis with bear-trap bindings.Bil was a mountaineer. He made the first ski descent of Mont Blanc, a world-class mountaineering feat, back in the days when people didn’t even think about doing things like that.And, when things got a little too peaceful, Bil raced sports cars.If you see Bil Dunaway these days, you can’t help but notice that he’s moving a little slowly. He’s on two artificial knees right now, paying the price for those years of ski races – and ski wrecks. And sports car races – and sports car wrecks.I can’t begin to sum up a man like Bil Dunaway in a short little newspaper column. So I have to compress things way too much.Like this: Bil Dunaway was a crusading newspaper editor. He was a world-class ski racer. He was a world-class mountaineer. He was … no, he still is one of the people who personifies the best of Aspen. He’s one of the last of his breed.And he’s one of my personal heroes.Andy Stone is former editor of The Aspen Times. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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