I got to shake hands with an Aspen legend yesterday.Though I have been here for 15 years and occasionally written for The Aspen Times for the last seven, I had never, prior to yesterday, met Bil Dunaway. But there, on a spring afternoon, holding down a table at the Hotel Jerome, as he has done no doubt a thousand times or more before, was the former owner, editor and publisher of The Aspen Times.
An hour or so earlier I had spied him. He was sitting just inside the big window of the Times office on Main Street. As the sun streamed in he was perusing the daily paper with one eye and keeping the other on the dogs and the people coming and going through the busy morning. When I walked in he winked, and I thought to myself “that old guy sure does look comfortable in that sunny window.” I didn’t know that it was Dunaway at the time or I surely would have known why he was so comfortable.Bil Dunaway bought The Aspen Times in 1956 from Verlin Ringle and owned it until 1992. The years he maintained stewardship of the paper are arguably the best times this town has ever seen. When he bought the Times, it was a weekly with no photographs, and he sold it as both a daily and a weekly publication.From the growth of skiing in the late 1950s and early ’60s, to the counterculture years of the late ’60s and early ’70s, to the explosion in glitz, glamour and fortune of the 1980s, Dunaway’s paper covered it and commented on it all.
To those who were here during those years, The Aspen Times was a vital cog in the machine. It covered the news, yes, but more importantly, it documented the life and times of the community. It was an integral part of the fabric of a town that occupied a special place in a special time.Dunaway did well, and at one time was a veritable media mogul, owning KSNO-AM, the local cable television company, and the Valley Journal. But it will be his stewardship of The Aspen Times that will likely be remembered most.
Aside from running the Times, Dunaway’s legacy includes a stint in the fabled 10th Mountain Division. He was also a noted climber, and in 1953 he presaged the era of extreme sports by becoming the first man to make a ski descent of Mont Blanc, the highest peak in western Europe. Ah, those were the days.It is has become harder and harder to find true, authentic, Aspen characters any more – those people who were here at a time when being a true character meant simply being yourself, balls out. That’s why it is such a pleasure for me to have had the opportunity to shake the newspaperman’s hand this week.Be well, Bil.
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