Thomas H. Hale, 1944-2018
Thomas Henry Hale, a pioneer in Colorado politics and local government, died on Jan. 23, 2018 in Georgetown at the age of 73 after a nine-month battle with brain cancer.
Mr. Hale was born on July 15, 1944 in Boston to a distinguished family with deep roots in New England spanning back to the Mayflower. His relatives established the oldest law firm in the United States, today called WilmerHale. The Hales also had a deep tradition in public service: Sarah Josepha Hale, the “grandmother” of Thanksgiving and author of “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” was a trailblazer in women’s education; his great, great grandfather, Salma Hale, represented New Hampshire in the U.S. House of Representatives; his great grandfather Justice Edward Patterson, was a Justice and then Chief Justice of New York’s Supreme Court – Appellate Division from 1896-1910; and his father, Richard Walden Hale Jr., was the first chief Archivist for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and served on the Board of Trustees for Howard University for 32 years. This family background would prove instrumental to his later career in public service.
Mr. Hale attended junior high school at Cardigan Mountain boarding school in Canaan, N.H., high school at Thomas Moore boarding school in Harrisville, N.H., and college at Nichols College in Dudley, Mass., before graduating from the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis in 1967 with a degree in Forestry/Land Use. After university, Mr. Hale moved to Colorado in search of opportunities, landing around Aspen, where he worked on the mountain and in construction, including building his first house in nearby Snowmass. After deciding that the Aspen area was “too crowded,” Mr. Hale moved to Telluride in 1969, a town that later propelled him into Colorado politics and local government.
Telluride’s transition from mining town to ski resort – which only opened a few years later in 1972 – was most starkly reflected in the town’s political change from conservativism to liberal progressivism. Nominated by his peers, Mr. Hale was elected San Miguel County Commissioner in 1976 at the age of 32, making him the first Telluride “newcomer” to gain public office and one of the youngest county commissioners in Colorado history. He often joked that he won his first election “in a landslide of 17 votes.”
Known for his shrewd tactics yet eagerness to work with even the most bitter of rivals, Mr. Hale helped shepherd Telluride into the famous ski area and town that it is today. He 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 Mr. Hale fought for the gondola to be a free service so that it would help prevent skyrocketing car traffic between the two towns. Additionally, Mr. Hale and his business partner, Terry Starr, helped jump start Telluride’s now celebrated radio station, KOTO, by giving the station a 10-year lease at the cost of one dollar a year.
In Telluride, Mr. Hale would meet his wife, Nancy, also of Boston, Massachusetts and Middletown N.J. After requesting that the County help pay for a much-needed expansion of her burgeoning child care business, Mr. Hale told his future wife that he would have to recuse himself from the Commissioners’ decision as he would like to ask her out on a date. Three months later and after being stood up three times, the two would marry on January 19, 1979 and start a remarkable 40-year love affair.
After moving to Denver in 1985, Mr. Hale worked at Colorado Counties, Inc. and the U.S. Census Bureau before moving back into the mountains in 1995 to return to his passion, local Colorado government, where he was appointed County Administrator for Chaffee County in Salida. He then moved to become town manager of Granby in 2000, playing a pivotal role in the town’s recovery following the bulldozer incident. He next served as vice president for town relations at Granby Ranch ski area before transitioning into his final role as town administrator of Georgetown. In each of these stops, Mr. Hale was credited with helping turn around struggling economies and budgets, obtaining needed state and national grants for local improvements, and expanding town revenues through his in-depth expertise in Colorado zoning laws.
An avid fly fisherman who loved a dry vodka martini while discussing politics, Mr. Hale was known for his dry sense of humor, approachability, and kindness to all, regardless of background or persuasion. A consummate professional defined, his friends and colleagues were often astounded with his unshakable integrity, trustworthiness, and honesty. His New England background also graced him with humility, a strong work ethic, and a mild-mannered disposition that were uniquely juxtaposed with his quiet confidence, strategic mind, and knack for networking and connecting people. A consistent sentiment shared by his family, friends, and co-workers: “the world needs more Tom Hales.”
Mr. Hale is survived by his wife, Nancy Service Hale, of Georgetown; eldest son, Mark Christy Brooks Hale, of Granby; youngest son, Christopher “Kip” Robert Fairbanks Hale, of Washington, D.C.; and sisters, Francis Hale Vigneron of Rockport, Maine, and Martha Hale Abshear, of Ashland, Ore.
In lieu of flowers, Mr. Hale and the Hale family request that donations be made to Historic Georgetown, Inc. P.O. Box 667 Georgetown Colorado, 80444.
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