Vagneur: Mary Hayes, an unassuming hero |

Vagneur: Mary Hayes, an unassuming hero

Tony Vagneur
Saddle Sore

Mary Eshbaugh Hayes and I go back almost to the very beginning — we were born on the same day in the same month, just a few years apart. When I reminded her of this not all that long ago, she smiled and said, “I know. And your brother was one of us, too.”

God didn’t make enough words to truly describe Mary because there were so many aspects to her personality. Diminutive, ubiquitous, kind, warm, dedicated, focused, talented, intelligent and loyal are just a few, and they don’t really begin to touch on the essence of MEH. She was down-to-earth, quiet but not shy and she had a backbone of steel.

When I was in the first grade, Mary was my Sunday school teacher at the Aspen Community Church. I don’t recall who all of the kids were, but I clearly remember the stories she told, but more importantly, how she told them. We could all see the pictures she painted with her words, so detailed were her descriptions, and as we sat spellbound in those tiny, yellow chairs, absorbing what a very young Mary said, we learned tales that would carry us a lifetime.

Over the years, Mary highlighted me in several of her feature articles and regularly blessed me with a variety of photos of my likeness. Some were of the Community Church days, like when I was one of the three kings in a Christmas play, or other photos of different times and events. It was always an immense pleasure to see Mary’s familiar handwriting on an envelope in the mail, for I knew inside was a memory of this or that happening.

A few years ago, probably at my suggestion, we met in the lobby of the Hotel Jerome to discuss a project we were working on for the Aspen Hall of Fame. It was difficult to get much work done, for almost everyone who wandered through the lobby had a hello and sometimes more for Mary. “Maybe we should go back to my house,” she said. I demurred, telling her it was good for the town psyche to see her out. Celebrity has a price.

One year, I dropped into the Bank of Aspen to deposit a check and on a wall covered with an exhibition of Mary’s photographs, I spied a cowboy geek playing the accordion. Of course, it was me, caught in rare form with a major hangover, uncombed hair sticking out from under my hat, tired eyes and a cigarette hanging out of my mouth. I was unaware the photo existed, and when I questioned Mary, she said, “Tony, that’s one of my favorite photographs.” She made it one of mine with those simple words.

Some may think it odd, but I’ve always thought of Mary as one of my heroes. I admired her lifestyle, which she wore so publicly, pushing or pulling a cart, carriage or wagon on her many rounds through town, coming or going on the short walk from home to work. She made her livelihood through a tremendously creative spirit and raised a flock of good-looking, talented kids. Working at a newspaper, writing books, raising kids and telling marvelous stories with her pen and camera, she embodied so much of what I wished for in life — she could be no less than a hero.

Sitting beside her at one of the famous Aspen Times Christmas parties at Jimmy’s a couple of years ago, we got in some good visiting about our years together, and it was fun watching her interact with other columnists and writers. Toward the end, as people began to drift away from the table, Mary, who wasn’t much of a drinker, leaned over and whispered in my ear, “Can you give me a ride home? I think I’m drunk.” Oh, Mary, of course.

It was snowing as my friend Margaret and I helped her down the spiral staircase and along the slippery street to my Jeep. She apologized for causing any hardship while we flopped seats around, making room for an extra passenger, and my silent thought was that we would have rowed her across the Atlantic, had it been necessary. As I walked her to the door through the softly falling snow and helped with her key, I remember thinking what an absolutely wonderful woman she was. We’re all going to miss her terribly.

Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at


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