Paul Andersen: Fair Game
The Aspen Times
Aspen CO Colorado
He spelled Bil with just one “L,” a sign of eccentricity. Another was the color purple; he loved it and he wore it with flare. Bil owned a fortune in Aspen real estate, but judging by his funky attire, you’d think his next meal was coming from Lift Up. It took an eccentric man to love an eccentric town and to dedicate his life to running the newspaper that helped form the character of Aspen.
I first met Dunaway in September 1984. After five years as editor of the Crested Butte Chronicle, I needed a change. Aspen had always been intriguing, so I set up a job interview and decided to bike over. I crossed Taylor Pass to Ashcroft, where I took a splash bath in Castle Creek. In Aspen, I changed into street clothes behind a spruce tree at Paepcke Park.
During the interview, Bil wore his characteristic smirk as he sized me up, his eyes discerning, mustache slightly askew. He looked over my clips and read a few paragraphs. “It looks like you can write,” he acknowledged, “but how much can you write?”
That was my first clue that The Aspen Times was an insatiable maw for news copy. There was no wire service then, so the entire paper was staff written. I answered truthfully that I had written the entire Crested Butte paper, solo, which seemed to satisfy him. Then he asked a more probing question. “How did you get over here?” I told him I had ridden over on my bicycle, and his eyes lit up. When I told him I had come over Taylor Pass, he beamed. We were brothers of the bike. I had the job.
As a reporter, I wrote to please Bil, which meant being fair, accurate, and thorough. Bil was no micro manager, so reporters practiced “enterprise journalism.” We covered our beats at our own discretion, based on trust. When I once crossed the line of propriety on a story, Bil shouted for me from his cubicle at the head of “Reporter’s Row.” With everyone listening, he ran me down for violating his trust, which I never did again.
When we won awards from the Colorado Press Association, Bil took the winners to Denver for the ceremony, put us up at the Brown Palace, and treated us to a fancy dinner. He made us feel appreciated and valued, which meant far more than the framed award on the wall.
I was proud of Dunaway as he stood beside Mick Ireland when Mick broke a front-page story in the late ’80s about a huge Aspen drug ring, revealing dozens of implicated names. For several days afterwards, a parade of the impugned came to plead their innocence with Bil, who heard their pleas with the temperance of a magistrate.
Bil was hugely influential in Aspen politics and land use. He was dubbed the “Sixth Councilman” for his expertise on city issues, on which he reported for decades. As both public conscience and unimpeachable source, Bil represented firm, parental authority in a town that needed it.
Dunaway cared about his reporters because he understood the demands. Vacations were paid, housing was provided, profits were shared. And if there were no profits, bonuses came from his own pocket.
Birthdays were celebrated – especially for the pack of resident dogs for whom we donned party hats and sang “Happy Birthday” over ground beef birthday cakes with candles. The Times office was the most humane dog kennel in the world. Bil took it all in stride with a smile and a shrug as if to say, “Hey, this is Aspen.”
Off seasons were slow, with little ad revenue and a full staff of reporters. Bil encouraged extended, unpaid vacations that allowed me to take long bike tours in Europe and the desert Southwest. One April, I told Dunaway I was leaving for Spain for two months. With unmasked jealousy, he barked, “You bastard!” Years later, the tables were turned as he bike toured Europe and I cursed.
Bil was the best boss I ever had. He handed me Aspen on a platter by making the Times a revered institution that opened every door. The Times reflected the spirit of the community as a good newspaper should, and through it, Bil fashioned Aspen into a liberal, avant-garde, fun-loving place to celebrate life in the mountains.
Bil Dunaway issued a weekly portrait of Aspen that held a mirror to the face of a community whose narcissism was in need of accurate, sober reflection. Aspen is a better place because of Bil … with just one “L.”
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