Ed Quillen, Denver Post columnist and former editor of The Mountain Mail, died early Sunday morning at Heart of the Rockies Regional Medical Center in Salida after suffering a heart attack. He was 62.
Quillen attended Colorado State College (now the University of Northern Colorado) where he was editor of The Mirror, the college newspaper, but his newspaper “career” goes back even further.
He was one of those journalists who seemed to have ink for blood. As a 5-year-old, he wrote his first newspaper and gave it to his mother.
In junior high he started an “underground” newspaper that graded his teachers, among other things.
He married Martha Patterson June 26, 1969, in Longmont.
They moved to Salida in spring 1978 when he accepted the job as managing editor of The Mountain Mail, a position he held until 1983 when he quit to devote full-time to freelance writing.
“Ed had an incredible gift for seeing things differently. He came up with odd angles, and it was hard to see where he got that. But it was truly a gift,” Merle Baranczyk, publisher and editor of The Mountain Mail, said.
“He was a true journalist in every sense of the word. He feared no one and went after stories with great vigor – a message he instilled in the staff, the newsroom and the reporters he worked with,” Baranczyk said.
During his years at The Mountain Mail, Ed was a community watchdog and insisted that his reporters dig into “the rest of the story.”
“Ed was the smartest man I ever met,” said Karen Morrison.
“He knew the answers to so many things, grand and trivial. He taught me to be an ‘investigative reporter,’ pushing me to explore every detail. He made me go places I didn’t want to go, research things I didn’t think were important (but they were) and take pictures.
“He said if I was curious about something, the rest of the community also wanted to know. He wouldn’t allow me to see events in black and white, saying there was always the ‘other’ angle – the gray area,” she said.
“I loved working Sundays with him. He’d send me to Safeway for a quart of buttermilk, a can of Bugler tobacco, sardines and other unhealthy junk food, and we’d sit in the newsroom eating lunch, with Ed telling me stories, mostly history, of the areas in Colorado where he lived and worked,” Morrison continued.
“He was often controversial in his approach to the news and editorial content but always made me think about things in a different way. I’ll miss him.”
Writing was Quillen’s life. He and Martha wrote a series of 13 Western novels for Signet, in addition to his writing for “Utne Reader,” “Empire Magazine,” “Colorado Homes & Lifestyles” and other publications.
He began selling columns to the Denver Post in 1984 and in 1986 became a regular op-ed columnist. In 1998 “Deep in the Heart of the Rockies,” a book of his columns from the Denver Post, was published.
He was also was a ghostwriter for several books and co-authored “The White Stuff,” a nonfiction book about cocaine, with B. J. Plasket in 1985.
He and Martha founded “Colorado Central Magazine,” a regional monthly, in 1994 and published it for 15 years, selling it to Mike Rosso in early 2009.
“Ed is one of the reasons I came to Salida,” Rosso said. “I was living in Durango and read his column in the Denver Post and figured if a guy with that kind of intelligence and wit can be in Salida, it must be a great town to live in. I’m glad we had Ed while we did. He will be missed.”
Rosso actually met Quillen at a meeting of the Single Malt Scotch Tasting Society.
“It was at one of those meetings where he proposed I buy his magazine,” Rosso said. “Ed continued to be a regular contributor. His loss will leave a big hole. But he was such a prolific writer he left a lot of work behind, and it can be found on the website for “Colorado Central Magazine” at www.cozine.com.”
He encouraged others to write as well and taught creative writing and business English for Colorado Mountain College.
He loved railroads and history and for 25 years was a speaker at the Headwaters Conference at Western State College, a program where young people learned about government and writing on local issues. Journalists from throughout the Western Slope attended those meetings.
He spoke frequently on historical topics in the local area for DeAnza Day, the League of Women Voters and other events.
Ron Slaughter, friend and fellow writer, said, “Ed was one of the most intelligent guys I’ve ever met. He was a good husband and father. We were home brewers together and invented a couple of things for home brewers. His death was a complete shock.”
“Ed was a real history buff,” his wife, Martha, recalled. “He was also very funny. I think that is why he was so in demand as a speaker.”
Quillen enjoyed walking the family dog, Bodie, a mixed breed pup rescued from a dumpster at the Bodie General Store in Albuquerque, N.M.
A crew of workers from Salida found the dog and brought it to a local veterinarian, and a friend said the Quillens might like it because their dog had just died. They did, and when Ed wasn’t busy writing, he enjoyed his walks with Bodie.
“Knowing Ed for over 30 years was a true privilege,” said Vicki Sue Vigil, Salida Business Alliance president. “We worked together when he came to The Mountain Mail in 1978, raised our children together and had several good meals together.
“The last few years he served as secretary of the Salida Business Alliance. Approving his minutes was hilarious. His humor and wit were adorable … yes, Ed was adorable. He often told SBA guests he was our unemployable member since he did not have a business or job.
“He made meetings enjoyable and said not many things would get him out of bed and to a meeting that early in the morning, but SBA was one of them. He will be missed.”
Sen. Mark Udall said, “Ed Quillen was a well-respected voice in Chaffee County and across the state. My deepest condolences to his family and friends. He was a trusted and experienced journalist who gave voice to the concerns of many Coloradans. His work covered areas of rural Colorado and topics that otherwise would not have received any attention in the news.
“I met with Ed just a few months ago while touring the Browns Canyon area, and his sharp wit and genuine care for Colorado came through in person just as strongly as they do in his printed words. I am sad to see him go. He will be missed.”
Ed Quillen is survived by his wife, Martha, two daughters, two grandchildren, his mother and two brothers.
An obituary will follow when arrangements are finalized.