Margaret Maginness: Remembering John Whittum
I hesitate to write this letter remembering my friend John Whittum, because I fear I won’t do him justice. But I have to write it, and I hope lots of people write letters to the paper about John. If all of his currently living friends wrote a letter about John, they would more than fill this newspaper.
Perhaps more impressively, they would come from people of all ages and interests. They would be ranchers, historians, writers, ski patrollers, neighbors, family, city and county planners, educators, equestrians, ditch riders, lawyers and more. John led such a rich and varied life, few, if any, could do justice to the entire man.
I first knew John as the headmaster of the private boarding school down the road and as the father of my fellow Pony Clubbers. I don’t remember actually meeting him in my youth, but I sure as heck knew who he was. I probably avoided him. At the time, he looked like a stern old man. He would have been in his 50s then, which seemed old to me then.
It wasn’t until I returned from college and graduate school that I got to know John better — he still looked stern, and well, old. I was hired as a community organizer for the Community Alliance of the Yampa Valley and John was on the board.
As a board member, John’s skill was in being steadfast, well-informed, concise and hardworking. He always did what he said he would, and this usually included work that no one else wanted to do. Whenever I had John at my back, I knew all the T’s would be crossed and the I’s would be dotted. He was thorough and reliable, well-reasoned. By the time he decided on a statement, it was hard to dispute or discount.
Because of his stern countenance and reserved nature, I was surprised, as I got to know him better, to see how kind he was and how much he enjoyed people. He wrote poetry. He had a great chuckle. He was a historian and keeper of records.
“Having children was the best thing I ever did,” he told me once.
He enjoyed having younger friends. Many of his friends were more than 40 years his junior. I felt appreciated by him, respected, heard and valued. John was well-spoken, careful and honest with his words and thoughts, which made it all the more meaningful that he valued my words and thoughts, that he thought I was well-spoken and thoughtful. His confidence in and appreciation of me felt really good, like soul-building good, like three extra gold stars on my homework good. This is what I will remember most about John.
Margaret Maginness (formerly Berglund)
Steamboat Springs resident from 1984 to 2008
Currently resides in Columbia, Missouri
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