Sandy Widener and John Parr live on in the Parr-Widener Award

Yesterday was the sixth anniversary of the sad day in December 2007 when Sandy Widener, Westword co-founder, was killed in a car crash that also took the life of her husband, John Parr, and their daughter Chase. Only then-seventeen-year-old Katy Parr survived. Every December 22, I find a reminder in my e-mail to go to, which has an online memorial to the family. But I don't need an electronic reminder to think of them. I think of them every time I go to City Hall, where a conference room is named the Parr-Widener Room. Or in countless spots across the metro area where they made their mark.

The memories always mix the bitter with the sweet -- but this fall, when the Denver Foundation handed out the Parr-Widener Award, created in 2008 to honor the memories of a couple who had a passion for building better communities, the event was definitely more sweet than sad. One reason for that was that Katy Parr, who now lives in Boston, was in attendance. So were Sandy's parents, as well as her sister, Carol, and other members of the extended Widener and Parr families.

"This is a bittersweet occasion," said Denver Foundation president David Miller, in announcing the 2013 award. "We miss Sandy and John, but we celebrate the hundreds of leaders they have cultivated in this community."

And this year's top honor went to a very prominent leader, Denver mayor Michael Hancock, who was an intern at City Hall when he met Sandy -- then a press secretary for Mayor Federico Pena. But at the same time he, like the other interns, was harboring a crush on her, Hancock said, he was learning from John Parr, a key strategist behind the election of Dick Lamm to governor, and then Pena to mayor.

"Everything I learned about how to be the mayor of Denver, I learned from John Parr," Hancock said in accepting the award. "You start with those that are impacted the most, and work together with everyone in a collaborative manner to find solutions."

In addition to the Parr-Widener Award, that night the Denver Foundation also presented the Swanee Hunt Leadership Awards.

The Swanee Hunt Emerging Leadership Award was presented to Magalie Lerman, co-director of Prax(us), an organization dedicated to ending human trafficking.

And the Swanee Hunt Individual Leadership Award, which usually goes to a single individual, this year went to three working to steer young people away from gangs: Francisco "Cisco" Gallardo, program director of GRASP (Gang Rescue and Support Project), since 2006; Johnnie Williams, who works with Gallardo at GRASP and with him co-founded a unity council; and Ryan Ross, dean of student development and retention at the Community College of Denver and one of the founders of Black Men Giving with a Purpose, a giving circle housed at the Denver Foundation.

Sandy Widener and John Parr would have applauded the choices.

More from the Calhoun: Wake Up Call archive: "Remembering Sandy Widener"

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