Tom Hale led wave of newcomers in Telluride then managed towns
Thomas Henry Hale, the first “newcomer” to Telluride elected to public office in San Miguel County and then later manager of several mountain governments, died Jan. 23 at the age of 73. He had battled brain cancer for nine months.
Hale was born in 1944 in Boston. HIs family had roots in New England beginning with the Mayflower. His ancestors had established the oldest law firm in the United States, today called Wilmer Hale. Another ancestor, Sarah Josepha Hale, was known as the “grandmother” of Thanksgiving and author of “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” Another had been in Congress, another a state supreme court justice, and so forth.
Hale attended boarding schools before graduating from the University of Minneapolis in 1967 with a degree in forestry and land use. He then moved to Colorado, first to Aspen, where he worked on the ski mountain and in construction, building his first house at Snowmass.
Deciding that Aspen was ’too crowded,” he moved to Telluride in 1969. It was still a mining town. The ski area did not open until late 1972. Four years later, in 1976, he was elected a San Miguel County commissioner.
Art Goodtimes—a journalist who arrived several years later, going on to become a county commissioner himself—says that progressive newcomers drawn to the emergent ski area economy took over town government in the mid-1970s.
“But the Board of County Commissioners was a more difficult nut to crack. Tom Hale was the first progressive elected to a very conservative board.”
Goodtimes confirms what the obituary printed in various newspapers said about his savvy skills in his eagerness to work with even the most bitter of rivals.
“As a cub reporter covering county affairs, I thought he had a great knack for making motions that got just a bit (not too much) of his agenda into the motion, while satisfying his colleagues’ concerns. In fact I learned through Tom that making a motion first was often a more powerful position than serving as chair,” says Goodtimes.
“He was an inspiration for me when I got elected to office, especially when I stepped outside the county to work on committees for Colorado Counties Inc. and the National Association of Counties. I was always in the liberal minority. But I used the skills I learned from Tom to shape motions, find common ground and get a little piece of my agenda into positions I didn’t usually agree with.”
In Telluride, Hale spearheaded the creation of the town’s historical commission that preserved its past and mandated that all future buildings were in line with its heritage; pushed through laws that guaranteed low-income housing within town limits; and ensured the creation of the United States’ first and only regional gondola transportation system to connect the town of Telluride with its sister town, Mountain Village.
This latter achievement is environmentally noteworthy, as Hale fought for the gondola to be a free service so that it would help prevent skyrocketing car traffic between the two towns. It still is.
After moving to Denver in 1985, Hale worked at Colorado Counties Inc. and the U.S. Census Bureau then returned to the mountains in 1995 to pursue his passion: local government.
For several years, he was administrator of Chaffee County, whose principal towns are Buena Vista and Salida. Then, from 2000 to 2008, he was town manager of Granby, followed by a short stint as vice president for town relations at Granby Ranch ski area. In his final post, he was town administrator of Georgetown from March 2010 until he resigned in October 2017.
Among his most trying episodes might have been one in Granby. During his time there, Marvin Heemeyer bulldozed the town hall and 13 other buildings in the town in the aftermath of a zoning dispute from the 1990s.
Patrick Brower, then editor and publisher of the local Sky-Hi News, recalls Hale as a “top-notch manager who helped to run the town with a sense of humor and a common sense approach toward government.”
Brower says that Hale orchestrated the annexation of what is now all of Granby Ranch into the town limits (doubling the geographical footprint of the town to include the SolVista ski area and a golf course) and took the first steps toward protecting Granby’s downtown corridor despite outlying development pressure that threatened downtown. He also worked closely with developers of Grand Elk, bringing that real estate and golf course into the town limits along with a new City Market grocery store.
Hale, says Brower, “was unfairly and unceremoniously fired by Granby Mayor Ted Wang (a mere letter left on Tom’s seat in the temporary Granby town hall).”
Among current town managers who knew Hale was Virginia Egger, now of Avon. She was in Telluride in the mid-1980s when she first met Hale at a meeting. “He arrived smartly dressed, replete with a bow tie and tweed jacket. His East Coast accent powered his deservedly boasting views and sense of purpose as an elected official in one of Colorado’s newest ski town darlings, Telluride,” she says.
Many years later, when he was at Georgetown, she met him again at an I-70 Coalition meeting.
“Anyone who knew Tom benefitted from his wicked wit, keen insight and often voiced alternate view. He was a gem and will be remembered.”
He is survived by his wife, Nancy Service Hale, also of Boston, whom he met in Telluride and married in 1979, and also sons, Mark Christy Brooks Hale, of Granby, and Christopher “Kip” Robert Fairbanks Hale, of Washington, D.C.