June 05, 2012

Passing of Ed Quillen, Newspaperman & Expert on Victorian Undergarments

It was a small item on the Denver Post website, and it did not even register at first except semi-subliminally: "Denver Post columnist Ed Quillen dies at age 61 in his Salida home."

Well, crap. At least he went out without any hospital torment: a sudden heart attack as he sat in his easy chair.

A journalist since high school, later a columnist, and the founder of the still-published regional magazine Colorado Central, as a columnist, Ed was often the Post's only non-button-down, non-Denver-metroplex voice — a voice for the rest of us.
Quillen, who hated attending events where he couldn't appear in jeans and a sweat shirt, jabbed the moneyed set as "Brie and Chablis elitists." Homes thrown up in sprawling developments he called "plywood hutches." A certain class of politician he referred to as "rich, white guys."
He knew about water law, mining, agriculture, and Colorado railroads —the fundamentals— in a way that most reporters did not. 

As editor of Colorado Central, he used to come talk to my magazine-writing class about the business and freelance writing in general. And he published a few quirky articles that I felt like writing.

He told us that one trick to column-writing was to take a commonly accepted idea and extend it to the point of absurdity, or take an absurd idea and treat it matter-of-factly.
He published a collection of his columns in 1998 and co-wrote or ghost-wrote a number of books on such diverse topics as cocaine [The White Stuff, co-authored with reporter B.J. Plaskett—CSC] and mainframe computer programming. (Quillen may have come across as a country boy with his shaggy beard and rusty pickups, but he had been building his own computers for years.) 
As the Post article mentions, he and his wife, Martha, also wrote a string of "adult Westerns," which Ed defined by saying, "When Marshall Dillon and Miss Kitty go upstairs, the book doesn't stop there," and he used to toss out obscure terms like "balbriggans." At least in his imagination, he knew all about 19th-century undressing.

There aren't enough like him, and now there is one less.

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