Thomas H. Hale, 1944-2018
February 6, 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 jumpstart Telluride's now celebrated radio station, KOTO, by giving the station a 10-year lease at the cost of one dollar a year.