In Memory: Imagining a Great City

Back in 1982, Sandy Widener, one of Westword’s co-founders who by then had gone on to far more respectable employment with Rocky Mountain Magazine, was charged with coming up with a campaign slogan for Federico Pena, a lawyer/legislator and very dark-horse candidate running for mayor of Denver. John Parr, Sandy’s future husband, was strategizing Pena’s run, just as he had Dick Lamm’s candidacy for governor of Colorado eight years earlier. After considerable brainstorming, Sandy came up with this: “Imagine a Great City.”

In May 1983, then 36-year-old Pena triumphed over a half-dozen competitors – including incumbent mayor Bill McNichols – to become mayor, and a new generation of civic leaders set out to build that great city. But none as energetically – and successfully – as Sandy Widener and John Parr. They didn’t just imagine a great city, they created it.

Sandy, John and their nineteen-year-old daughter, Chase Parr, were killed in a car accident in December. They left behind hundreds of friends, many reminders of their good works throughout not just the city but the state, and eighteen-year-old Katy Parr. The family was commemorated at a memorial service on February 29, but the projects in their memory continue.

One tangible memorial is the Parr-Widener Community Room in the Denver City & County Building, where the couple spent so much time (among other things, John served as the head of Pena’s transition team, and Sandy did a stint as Pena’s press secretary). “John and Sandy were both the world experts on bringing people together,” says current Denver mayor John Hickenlooper, explaining why the former law library across from his office, which was renovated into a meeting room a few years ago, has been renamed in the couple’s honor. “The only thing lacking is a great kitchen.”

Where Sandy would whip up an exotic meal, chatting all the while, while John moved everyone in the room toward consensus.

Numerous other awards and memorials have been established in the families honor. Among them:

The John Parr and Sandy Widener Civic Leadership Award Each year, an individual who exemplifies the community spirit of Sandy Widener and John and Chase Parr will receive this award. Contributions can be sent to the Denver Foundation, 55 Madison Street #800, Denver, CO 80206 or made online at

The Sandra J. Widener '76 Memorial Fund Sandy Widener served as assistant managing editor of the Cornell Daily Sun, and this fund in her honor will be used to landscape the Sun building in downtown Ithaca, New York. Contributions can be sent c/o the Cornell Daily Sun Alumni Association, P.O. Box 876, Ithaca, NY 14851-9980.

The John Parr Children and Nature Leadership Award John Parr was one of the founders of the Children & Nature Network, a member of the group’s board of directors and the principal author of the C&NN Community Action Guide: Building the Children and Nature Movement from the Ground Up, which he completed on December 20. In his memory, the Children & Nature Network has established the John Parr Children and Nature Leadership Award, a cash gift to be given to an outstanding young Natural Leader™ every year. Contributions may be sent to Children & Nature Network, 7 Avenida Vista Grande B-7 #502, Santa Fe, NM,87508.

The John Parr Denver Community Leadership Scholarship Fund Co-founded in 1984 by John Parr and Dave Chrislip, the Denver Community Leadership Forum brings together emerging leaders from the private, government and non-profit sectors to explore new ways to address community challenges. With its focus on the development of collaborative leadership and cooperative problem-solving skills, the DCLF reflects John’s commitment to and enthusiasm for the democratic process. Contributions can be sent to the CU Foundation/John Parr DCLF Scholarship Fund, School of Public Affairs, c/o the Center for Public-Private Sector Cooperation, Campus Box 133, P.O. Box 173364, Denver, CO 80217-3364. For more information, go to

Downtown Denver Leadership Program’s John Parr Leadership Award In honor of John Parr’s longstanding support of and involvement in the Downtown Denver Partnership and its Downtown Denver Leadership Program, the Downtown Denver Partnership has created the Downtown Denver Leadership Program’s John Parr Leadership Award, which will be given each year to the Leadership Program participant who best exemplifies John’s outstanding community leadership skills.

There’s also a memorial web site,, where people can post memories. And this family gave us all so many. – Patricia Calhoun

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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.
Contact: Patricia Calhoun