Longform

Three years after his murder, memories of Ken Gorman -- Colorado's most vocal pot activist -- have gone up in smoke

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After his military discharge, he joined the Federal Aviation Administration and made his way back to Colorado, moving to Longmont in 1969. There he placed an ad in the local paper seeking test subjects for an Edgar Cayce study — a psychic ritual that involved putting a subject in a trance. Kennedy responded to the ad.

"I knew instantly," Kennedy says of the first time she met Gorman, who in those days wore a suit and tie and had greased-down hair. "Our whole background was spiritual, metaphysical," a facet of Gorman's life she says was later drowned out by marijuana.

In fact, up until that point, Gorman had no interest in drugs. But around the time of Woodstock and the summer of love, Kennedy introduced him to marijuana. "From then on, it changed his life," she says. "I never got worked up in it the way he did." Three months later, the two were married. He was 23, she was 20.

The couple got a place in Loveland and created a local chapter of the Inner Peace Movement, a new-age spiritual fellowship, much to the chagrin of conservative neighbors who didn't appreciate the "No Pot, No Peace" sign in the front yard. After a police bust of large amounts of marijuana made local headlines, Kennedy remembers, Gorman and a friend designed a plan to break into the city's evidence locker and steal the bounty of marijuana. According to Kennedy, they got away with the stash and were never caught.

In those days, Gorman's life was defined by a search for truth — or something more entertaining than the truth. Kennedy says he learned to live his life on his terms, as a sort of social satellite taking in the world around him, poking as much fun as he could at it. "The way I'll always envision him is just kind of sitting back with this air of certainty," Kennedy says. "He would just laugh and say it doesn't matter."

"People were just entertainment for him," she adds. "He was constantly messing with people. He would do what he called 'constructive criticism.' Which was, basically, he'd tear you apart. He didn't always know how to put you back together."

In 1972, Valency was born, and three years later the family moved to Samoa, where Gorman was stationed with the FAA, and then to Honolulu.

"I was spoiled," Kennedy says. "At the time, his $40,000 was a lot of money. He was really good to me." But after eight years together, the two split, and she and Valency moved to Maui and then back to the continental U.S. "We played hard," she says of their young marriage. "There could have been more sex — I would have liked that — but when he got home, he was tired, and I'm a very frustrated woman.

"Ken was very secretive," she adds. "He only let you in so far. The only time I ever got him to tell me he loved me was if I got a few drinks into him."

Valency moved in with her grandparents in Loveland, as her father worked in Honolulu and her mother moved frequently. Around the same time, the summer of 1981, Gorman involved himself in an air traffic controller strike. Even though he was a manager, Gorman put his job on the line to join the strike made up mostly of younger, lesser-paid employees. The plan: Put pressure on President Ronald Reagan to meet union demands to free up the airways. But it backfired. Reagan fired any workers who didn't show up for work in August 1981.

The three-way split and Gorman's sudden unemployment rocked the family hard, especially young Valency. "They were just a bunch of hippies doing their thing," says Valency, now a 38-year-old sales coordinator for a major Denver IT firm. "I was pretty much raised by my mom and grandparents, so he was more of a friend. I was almost more the parent when they were doing their thing."

At a young age, Valency began to notice her father had less time for family and more of an interest in spending time with groups of teenage boys and younger men — who in Hawaii called him "Cosmos" for his radical political beliefs and interest in astrology, numerology and spirituality. "My dad was just always doing crazy stuff," she says. "His life was just not suitable for a kid. Yeah, I wanted a normal dad like you see on TV — your typical white-fence family. I definitely didn't get that. I wished he could have been around more."

When she did see him, though, Valency remembers Gorman's affinity for blasting Ozzy Osbourne and maybe a Beatles song or two, and how he loved to take her to action or science-fiction movies. But it wasn't always easy being his daughter.

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J. David McSwane
Contact: J. David McSwane