The Subject of a Lifetime

Gene Amole savors the opportunity to document his own demise.

Not that Amole's throat is problem-free. His esophagus is constricting, which affects his speech and makes it difficult for him to swallow soft foods or even drink water. But although he's already ruled out medical treatment that might prolong his life, limiting physicians to pain-reduction techniques, he plans to go ahead with a procedure known as esophageal dilation -- "They basically Roto-Rooter you" -- that will help maintain his pipes for as long as possible. For Amole, not being able to talk might be worse than death.

He certainly hasn't lost his verbal abilities, which are well remembered by fans of his "Friday Waltz" feature on KVOD. Indeed, a request for Amole to describe his work space results in a rousing conversation that's actually better than being there. For instance, a glance at a painting by Joe Barros (a former Denver Post staffer) of a now-destroyed courthouse once located on 16th Street prompts a yarn that incorporates Amole's grandfather, who moved to Denver at fifteen and helped plant "the lovely elm trees" that surrounded the building; the demolition of the structure in 1932, and the creation of a "sunken-garden park" in its place; and the brusqueness of magnate William Zeckendorf, who "blew into town with all his money" and had the trees ripped from the soil, although not from Amole's memory. "I was very angry when they cut those trees down," Amole says, still fuming half a century later. "They were dear things to me."

In many ways, this tale encompasses the contradictions in Amole's work. Because of the misty manner in which he talks about Denver's past, he's frequently tagged as a mere nostalgist, but he's long displayed a wariness of powerful interests along with a little guy's willingness to take them on. He famously opposed the building of Denver International Airport, penning, by his count, over 120 columns attacking the project at a time when the News's editorial section consistently supported it. Moreover, according to editor Temple, "Gene hasn't changed his view one iota. It's so clear that in many respects the airport is a success and has done a lot for Denver -- that's my view, anyway. But Gene's always thought it's a boondoggle, and he still feels that way."

Life story: Gene Amole at his home.
Brett Amole
Life story: Gene Amole at his home.
Life story: Gene Amole at his home.
Brett Amole
Life story: Gene Amole at his home.

The joint operating agreement that binds the business operations of the News and the Post hasn't won Amole over, either, but Temple allowed him to take repeated shots at it -- a decision that Amole says typifies the first-rate way he's been treated by the paper during his tenure. For his part, Temple says, "I was saddened that Gene felt so badly about how things were going when, in many ways, the JOA's worked out pretty well. If you look at the papers today, you can argue about the coverage, but we do have two vital newspapers in Denver, and there were a lot of people who thought that wouldn't be the case. But I thought it was fine that he reacted the way he did, and I put everything in the way he wanted it."

The willingness of Temple to be quoted about the JOA in these pages speaks volumes about his fondness for Amole, whom he recently lauded in two of his own columns. (He has never before consented to an interview with Westword, failing to so much as acknowledge innumerable requests over a period of years.) When Temple was chosen as the News's metro editor nine years ago, Amole didn't have an editor; he simply filed his column to the city desk. Temple put an end to that -- "I believe a columnist needs an editor," he says -- but Amole never displayed the slightest resentment, befriending the new hire and giving him a quick, intensive education in all things Denver. According to Temple, "He would lace his columns with so many details that we really had to work to trace them all -- and 99.9 percent of the time, they were right. Goofy spellings, weird names: He would remember them exactly. He knows Denver better than anybody.

"The core character of the Rocky Mountain News is that it's really connected to the community," Temple allows. "We're one of the few metro papers -- maybe the only one -- that essentially starts the paper with local news. And Gene exemplifies that commitment. I think one of the things that's important for newspapers to do is not only be critical of where you live, but to celebrate it as well -- and Gene does both."

But he couldn't keep doing it forever. Amole hasn't been around the newsroom much in recent years (the last lengthy appearance Temple remembers took place on his 75th birthday), and his work had become inconsistent. When he was truly engaged by a topic, he could rise to the challenge, but when he wasn't, his writing could be slack and redundant. Amole feared this kind of slippage. "He'd always say to me, 'John, you have to tell me when I've lost it -- when I'm no longer any good. You owe it to me,'" Temple reveals. He adds, "I never had to tell him that, because he's never lost it. But he knew he was getting old, and he didn't want to be here if he wasn't pulling his weight."

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