Remembering the life of an entrepreneur who was a big force in turning tiny Aspen, Colorado, into a major destination
A Mountain Man
Crusading editor and savvy publisher—Bil Dunaway somehow played both roles during 38 years at The Aspen Times. As editor, he turned the paper into a force for open government and better treatment of local employees. As publisher, Dunaway used the Times's monopoly of the local advertising market to amass a fortune that allowed him to buy or launch television, radio, and other newspaper properties in the region—and acquire real estate—as Aspen became a playground for the wealthy.
In the early years, "it was the only source of information in town," says Bob Ward, the current editor of The Aspen Times. "I've seen pictures of people lined up at the door to get a copy."
Dunaway died February 25, after a long decline in his health. He was 87.
Born in what is now Iran—his father, an American economist, worked overseas for years—Dunaway learned to ski while a teen in Switzerland and skied competitively in college and after. When World War II came, he served in the 10th Mountain Division, training fellow American soldiers to rock climb and then earning a Bronze Star for reconnaissance work in the mountains of Italy.
"It was the Greatest Generation on skis," says Dunaway's stepson, David Jones. "When you're young and you've been in World War II, I suppose it's hard to find the same level of excitement." Dunaway tried, driving racecars, climbing mountains, and sailing in the open ocean.
In 1956, having just been fired from a Denver job as editor of a skiing magazine, Dunaway visited Aspen for a race. He had a nasty spill. In a cast up to his hip, he had time to get to know the local weekly, The Aspen Times. He bought the business before the cast came off.
The Times soon reported on the water system's state of disrepair, forcing the city to fix things. In the '60s, Dunaway used his editorial page to stick up for vagrant hippies being bullied by cops. He was among the first Aspen employers to provide subsidized housing to workers as the soaring real estate market priced them out of town.
Dunaway campaigned to bring government decision making out of the backroom. And then, when it was, he covered it relentlessly.
Dunaway started a radio station in the front window of his newspaper offices and then brought cable TV to Aspen. He replicated that little media empire in two nearby towns. As the ski region boomed, so did his business.
He was tight. His clothing often resembled a thrift shop ensemble, and he would fix a torn jacket with duct tape. "Bil Super Glued his shoes back together," says Mary Eshbaugh Hayes, a longtime writer and editor at the Times. "He wouldn't put money into the building. We were all cold." But Dunaway could be generous, too, paying decent wages, establishing profit sharing, and giving year-end bonuses.
Responding to a new competitor, the Aspen Daily News, Dunaway turned the Times into a daily in the 1980s. He sold it in 1994 but for years kept coming in to the office. Ward recalls, "He would occasionally offer us news tips."