An Uncle’s Empty Chair

The Rocky Mountain News was a force in Colorado journalism dating back to the pioneer days. For old-timers and the waves of newcomers alike, it brought communities together and told the things people needed to know. When it went out of business in 2009, our neighbor Harry Puncec wrote about how it would be missed. His article was featured in the very last issue of the “Rocky.” With a thought for the people and institutions that have made us who we are today, It’s good every now and then to give a nod to “the empty chair.” 

By Harry Puncec, Special to the Rocky
Thursday, February 26, 2009

If you are reading this then you know that a member of the family has died. It’s OK to cry.

The passing of the Rocky Mountain News is like the death of a cranky, opinionated, blunt-talking live-in uncle. Every morning over breakfast he would wade in on matters of the day; first came a briefing of news that he felt I should know about, then he gave me his opinion of what it all meant, but he always ended up with a joke or two to soften the lesson.

He spoke sternly about what’s right and wrong with our world, but when I objected I knew he liked my resistance. He was genuinely pleased that I had ideas of my own.

We talked of great issues and minor matters. He tried to explain how society, government and business worked, and wasn’t above damning them when he felt they were off base. He tried to be detached but it never worked. You knew he really cared.

He spent a lot of time worrying about sports – both the big things like the Broncos and the stuff closer to home like high school leagues – and you got the sense that they weren’t just a pastime for him. Win or lose, he faithfully attended the games and gave me an accurate description of what happened. He always mentioned the heroes by name and spoke with regret about the goats. And he let you know that they would do better next year.

He was a shameless homer for sure. He couldn’t say enough about Denver, Colorado and the whole mountain West. He even made it his name. He would talk of things – the price of wheat on the commodities market or city council meetings about trash removal, for instance – that bored me to tears. I imagine he hoped I’d pay more attention and be a better citizen for it. I think I let him down a lot.

In him resided the history of our family. That was important because so many were new to it and wanted to become a part of it. He – and I keep using the word “he” but know very well that “she” made him great – embraced us all. He reported about the small towns with the same affection he used with the large. Cowboys and bankers, miners and scientists, students and retirees were all welcome brothers and sisters at the breakfast table. Through him – his stories and prodding and caring – our family grew closer as it grew larger.

His passing is just plain wrong. One of the great lessons he pounded into my head all these many years was that good guys finish first and the slacker ultimately fails. He ended up disproving his great lesson.

The Rocky was as good and smart in its last days as it ever was, and a whole lot better than when it began in 1859. It improved along with Denver.

I’m sure The Denver Post will try to fill the role and I wish them well. If they are smart they will hire the whole Rocky, kit and caboodle. But whatever happens, the honored chair where my uncle reigned will remain his alone.

Harry Puncec is a resident of Lakewood and a long-time-ago Rocky paperboy. He is a writer, a neighbor, and a founding member of not only the Southern Gables Neighborhood Association but the Southern Gables neighborhood itself. Story: Memories of Early Southern Gables.



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