Guest Columns

WEBBCAST: REMEMBERING MEDILL BARNES

Straight talk about a straight-shooting guy

The Colorado Statesman

Feisty. Principled. Direct.

I’m looking for the right word to begin a remembrance of Medill McCormick Barnes, who died March 1. The practice of starting with one word to define a column topic was an old device used by the late Gene Amole, who wrote for the Rocky Mountain News.

Now, I’ve decided Medill couldn’t be defined by one word. He was direct, because you always knew where he stood. He had a collection of colorful words to describe or identify those individuals for whom he had little patience or respect. “Idiot, pinhead, jackass, dummy,” covered politicians, journalists, pretenders, and wanna-bes of every stripe.

That’s also where the “feisty” comes in. Medill wasn’t afraid of an argument, particularly when he believed he was on the right course. He could be persuasive or hectoring, whatever worked. Whether it was urging sluggish bureaucracies to movement on cleaning up Clear Creek, or assuring that the ambulance authority was staffed with the right people, he fought for doing the right thing. He was our client for several years, and he was the ideal client, taking advice and always moving the ball forward.

Medill, perhaps burdened by the heritage of his name, never stopped having a journalist’s mindset. He was constantly inquisitive and a good listener. From his days at KLZ (the old Channel 7— a powerhouse of early Denver television) he honed a keen remembrance of civic and political history. The editorship of the Straight Creek Journal refined that sense.

I first met Medill in 1973, and although he probably regarded me as a “punk reporter,” he loved to reminisce about people and political foibles of that era, even up to the present years and personalities. I can’t say Medill “adored” journalism, but he certainly reveled in what he thought was the heyday in Denver in the 70’s and 80’s. And although he railed against the fluff and puff of today’s TV newscasts, and the thin attention paid by the daily newspapers, he still admired the work of “good” reporters. For the record, he missed the Rocky and had a tolerance/hatred of The Post.

Other interesting facets of Medill’s character (“character” being a word that covered a lot of his facets) include his love of animals, his attention to his mother, and Susie.

Medill loved being a focus of animal love. When he’d come to our office for meetings, his first greeting was for Brody, the office Westie, whom he tussled with and petted. “Where’s the dog?” was often his greeting. For meetings “halfway,” (near 6th and Union) he’d always come to the car to see if Brody was there.

Medill, with Susie, spent time driving back and forth to Santa Fe to see his mother, who expired last year. He was mindful of how she was doing, how to best spent time with her, and what she was facing as she aged. But he always reminded me, on trips to Santa Fe, to take the “back way,” down US 285 and 64 and New Mexico 68. That’s where he “got some real thinking done.”

I think it’s touching, as well as interesting, that Medill always referred to his friend and spouse as “Susie.” Her formal name is Susan Graham Barnes, but to Medill it was “Susie,” like a comic book character or soap opera star. He’d say “Susie wants me home this afternoon,” or “Probably ought to check with Susie.” It showed a level or comfortableness (that’s an awkward word, but it works) for someone to whom he showed devotion and affection.

In telling a friend of Medill’s death earlier this week, we mused about people close to our age now dying, and how this period, for many of us, is the start of a long era that will soon include us. But we also wondered, “Who are the Medills of the next generation? Who are the persons we will tell stories about, and marvel that we knew them?”

Medill Barnes, through his memories and his experiences, often put things about Denver and Colorado into perspective for me. He added value to my life experience, as he did for many others.

Pete Webb is a contributing columnist for The Colorado Statesman. He is a former broadcast journalist and award-winning investigative reporter. He has owned a PR firm, served as president of the one-time Colorado Film Commission and is immediate past president of the Special District Assn. of Colorado and a long-time director of two fire districts.