Dennis Gallagher passed away on Friday, April 22, after a short illness. He was 82. Word spread quickly through this city where he was born and raised, this city he'd devoted his life to serving. He did so everywhere from the Colorado Legislature to Denver City Council to the Denver Auditor's Office, from classrooms to coffeehouses.
Gallagher grew up in north Denver and graduated from Regis University, where he taught off and on for forty years after getting a master’s degree from the Catholic University of America in 1967. Just three years later, he was elected to the legislature, where he made his mark with the Gallagher Amendment, a 1982 measure that voters repealed in 2020...an act that many of them regretted as soon as they opened their last property tax bill.
"Be honest with the people," Gallagher urged back in the spring of 2020, after legislators had put that repeal proposal on the ballot. "How much more do you want homeowners to pay so that businesspeople can pay less?"
By then, he was officially, finally out of public office — most recently the Denver Auditor's Office, where he'd served since 2003 after eight years on city council, two runs for mayor and 22 years in the legislature. But he was still always out in public, hosting his St. Patrick's Day celebrations, offering tours of cemeteries and other spots around town, and opining on just about everything, with that impish Irish wit and great, deep voice.
In 2015, at a roast when Gallagher left public office, I was one of the roasters.
He seemingly knew everything about Denver and everyone in it, past and present. I was lucky enough to play crusading reporter Polly Pry to his Mayor Robert Speer in aColorado Inside Out Time Machine episode on 1917 for PBS12 (watch it below), and he was always ready with an insightful, often entertaining opinion on more current events when I contacted him for an actual story. I was one of his retirement roasters in 2015, and appreciated the much more erudite job he did when he roasted his longtime friend and colleague Tom Noel late last year.
Dennis Gallagher's family announced his passing on his Facebook page. “It is with heavy hearts and profound grief that we regret to inform you that Dennis Gallagher passed from this life on Friday evening. Dennis passed peacefully in his sleep. As a larger than life presence, not only in our family but in the greater Denver community, the depth of our loss cannot be fully expressed."
That page is topped with the words "Gallagher's World" in his perfect, precise penmanship, and now filled below with messages from those he touched.
Dennis Gallagher's world was this city. And for so many, he was this city.
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Patricia Calhoun co-founded Westword in 1977; she’s been the editor ever since. She’s a regular on the weekly CPT12 roundtable Colorado Inside Out, played a real journalist in John Sayles’s Silver City, once interviewed President Bill Clinton while wearing flip-flops, and has been honored with numerous national awards for her columns and feature-writing.