Letter: Hayes was like no other | AspenTimes.com

Letter: Hayes was like no other

The first time Mary Hayes mentioned me in one of her columns, I couldn’t imagine why. I was young and had written something lame that had been published somewhere small, and she had seen it. I thought she only wrote about parties and people who’d been in the valley since the invention of fire. I didn’t realize she regularly shined a light on local writers and artists and athletes and anyone who did something that she thought deserved a mention. It was a very rare and caring gesture for those who can live or die by getting noticed. And I had no idea how many people read her words before then. Very few ever read mine, but they would read about them in her columns and stories and let me know it.

To call Mary singular would be to debase the word. The sweet little lady who wrote all those pleasant columns was incredibly bright and engaging and the only real chronicler of importance for Aspen during some of its most glorious and troubled years for a period spanning more than half a century following World War II. And she did it with originality, a sharp eye and a fascination for those people who were the real nuts and bolts of the community. Her books, her columns, her many bylined stories and her years of reporting and editing produced an unequaled catalog of local material that will be studied and mined for years. It’s no wonder the Aspen Historical Society declared her a living treasure.

On a personal level, she was unfailingly nice and helpful to me as a friend and fellow writer, though I never considered myself in her league. When I needed quotes for stories or historical information or anything else, she was always there. And it was never poorly thought-out or run-of-the-mill stuff. She knew what she was talking about and wasn’t afraid to say something pointed.

When we included Mary and Jim as Salutees for the annual Aspen Sojourner story a few years ago, the photo portrayed them in a latter-day “American Gothic” pose that everyone at the mag liked. When I later asked Mary what she thought about it, she shrugged and smiled at me and said, “Didn’t you think it was kind of cliched and a little precious?” If I’d been drinking, it would have come out through my nose, and I admitted that I hadn’t until just then.

She also once warned me about writing obits for my friends, saying it could become a depressing habit. She was right, of course, as she’s proving today. We will not see the likes of this sweet little lady again.

Jay Cowan

Old Snowmass