It was with a deep sadness I learned from Jerry Grandey that my old journalism partner Jim Davidson was in the last stages of hospice. He passed away the day before Earth Day, at home in Crestone, in the house he built himself, surrounded by his family.
He was an amazing man of incredible talent, many interests, incisive wit, great writing chops and a love of newspapers, among other things (like his two kids Greta and Eric and his beloved Tracee Sporer). I don’t think any editor before or since has had such a firm read on the pulse of Telluride. He hung in the Sheridan with the best of them. Learned all the secrets. And kept a sense of humor that blossomed in his editorials and kept all of us on our toes – no one wanted to be the butt of a Davidson poke, making grand fun of something while at the same time slamming home a trenchant point one couldn’t ignore.
His first published book was a marvelous and terrible story harking back to his personal roots growing up in Rico and Telluride – Mine Work (Utah State Univ., 1999). It won kudos, first novel awards and even received a favorable review in the New York Review of Books – something Ed Abbey was never able to accomplish in his lifetime. Here’s what the Denver Post wrote: "With a tone that is often reminiscent of Hemingway, the author writes a moving tale of not only power and shame but also of redemption. The book is fine reading."
Former Tellurider Lito Tejada-Flores has just re-issued this classic novel in a new edition from his Western Eye Press. It’s one of those must-read books if you live in the San Juans. Western Eye Press also published his second novel, Postmarked Calexico (2011), and Jim was working on an unpublished third novel.
His blog (jim-davidson.org) says this: “Davidson has worked in the mines and on the Ute Indian Reservation. He’s trapped weasel and drawn maps, lived on venison and waited for days for snowplows to free the village from blizzards. He’s watched his hardrock mining father taken down by lung disease and published a number of small town newspapers. He has seen a lot.”
In 1985 I was editor of the old Telluride Times, having been reluctantly promoted up to that job, after a couple of years as cub reporter, when the old editor left town suddenly. But I wasn’t happy with what I felt was too strong of a “booster” slant to the paper, and grew especially restive when a story on people living in their cars due to the housing shortage in Telluride got bumped from our Thanksgiving issue. It was about that time that Jim, who graduated from high school in Telluride, returned to town.
He wanted to start a rival newspaper. He had financial backers. He was smart, knew the place, and wanted to make a splash with a paper that didn’t cozy up to advertisers as much as keep the town fathers and mothers honest. But he needed someone with experience to work as managing editor. It didn’t take much to seduce me into that job.
The San Miguel Journal was daring. It featured full-page cover photos. International reporter (and backer) Mort Rosenblum had a regular column. It took on Idarado and Newmont Mining when the state-driven Superfund lawsuit began, got sued by Ron Allred’s Telluride Ski Company for reporting the truth, and made Telluride a two-paper town that’s continued for the past 30 years. Elizabeth Arnold, who went on to NPR fame, was one of our stringers.
The name changed to the Telluride Mountain Journal in 1988, and then in 1989 the Journal bought out the failing Times, and we became the Telluride Times-Journal. The paper regularly won awards from the Colorado Press Association. But Jim was not one to grind through a career forever. We have him to thank for bringing Marta Tarbell and Seth Cagin to town, Marta as editor so Jim could pursue his passion for sailing (at the time). Eventually he sold off the Times-Journal to Wick Communications, and moved out to Kansas with his wife, Tracee. For a brief time he came back to town to rescue the Times-Journal, which was in a tough newspaper battle with the Telluride Daily Planet. I became arts editor at that point, and he restored the Times-Journal’s competitiveness. But not for long. He wasn’t a company man, and being an employee was not his bailiwick. He quit and began commuting between a family spread in Kansas and Crestone, where he built a home mostly by himself in Crestone. His focus had become his own writing – putting his life experience into fine prose.
Through all of that, Jim was my mentor in journalism. He taught me, edited me, growled at me, made me laugh and cry. We worked together under pressure, counseling each other, conspiring, seeking the deeper truths behind the week’s stories. We became friends. I’m going to miss my friend.