Morley Ballantine, 84, chairman and editor of The Durango Herald whose roots were in a Midwestern childhood and a
newspaper-publishing family, died Saturday, Oct. 10, 2009, at her home in Durango of respiratory failure.
Â "She was a pillar of strength in the whole press of Colorado," former Colorado Gov. Roy Romer said. "I would
never go to Durango without stopping by to see her. She was a very interesting woman, powerful, and her opinion was
very influential. I will always remember her smile, her friendliness and her engaging personality that always said, 'I'm happy to see you.'"
Ballantine lived a life dedicated to journalism, public service, philanthropy, education and the arts.
Her death closes a chapter in the Ballantine family's 57-year stewardship of Durango's daily newspaper.
Mrs. Ballantine's love of her community was obvious.
"She was such a strength, she was the matriarch of our community," her longtime friend Debra Parmenter said. "I don't
think our community would be what it is without her. She has begun so many projects here, I don't know how anyone
could name them all."
Woman of convictions
At the age of 79, Mrs. Ballantine vividly recalled a story that illuminates the beginnings of an interest in the
arts and the birth of a social conscience. Both informed her world view for the rest of her life.
"When I was 9 or 10," Mrs. Ballantine said in a conversation in 2005, "my parents took me to hear Marian Anderson
sing at the Hoyt-Sherman Concert Hall in our home, Des Moines, Iowa. She must have been on tour in 1934. My mother
and father believed in supporting community concerts and in showing support for Miss Anderson. I remember my father
being upset that a great artist of her caliber had to use the servants' elevator in the hotel. This was long before
the civil rights movement, and I remember Miss Anderson, her beautiful voice and my parents' concerns."
With her husband, Arthur A. Ballantine Jr., and their four children, she moved to Durango in 1952 after they
purchased the weekly Durango News and the daily Durango Herald-Democrat, immediately merging them to create The
Durango Herald-News and then The Durango Herald in 1960. Eventually the family-owned publishing company grew. The
Herald purchased the Cortez Journal and Mancos Times in 1999. The company bought the Dolores Star in 2000.
"She is widely thought of in the news industry as the model of a local newspaper publisher," Lou Boccardi, the
president and chief executive officer of The Associated Press from 1985 to 2003, said in a phone interview Friday.
"She was a local owner with high standards and a high sense of commitment."
For 50 years, Mrs. Ballantine wrote a weekly column and frequent editorials, which addressed a range of subjects
including the familial as well as international concerns such as the Vietnam and Cold wars. The initials MCB at the
bottom told readers this was her work. Mrs. Ballantine also was known for her SeÃ±ora San Juan advice columns and was
progressive for having both men and women as advisers.
"She was always ahead of her time and cutting edge," former Colorado Gov. Richard Lamm said. "She had the courage of
her convictions while often surrounded by a conservative electorate. Morley was truly one of Colorado's natural
A dispute about unsafe drinking water tested the resolve of the publishers of the Herald-News during the Ballantines'
early days in Southwest Colorado. State officials determined that Durango drinking water was unsafe and recommended
construction of a filtration plant and covered reservoir. Mrs. Ballantine said taxpayers complained, some charged
state interference, and, in true McCarthy-era style, a few suspected a Communist plot. Local businesses were
concerned about negative publicity for the community.
The newspaper and the City Council strongly supported the state recommendation, but "safe water" lost a public
referendum. In Condemned by many, read by all Durango's Newspapers 1880-1992 by local historian Duane Smith, he wrote
that the Herald lost $10,000 in advertising revenue, but the town did get an improved water system.
From Mrs. Ballantine's perspective years later, being the new owners of the only newspaper in town had its ups and
"If you're new in town, you have to prove your mettle," she said. "You have to make a contribution, and people will
judge this way or that."
Proving the Ballantines' mettle was an ongoing theme. The late Ian "Sandy" Thompson was the associate editor of the
Herald from 1970 to 1973. He told Smith about the summer an intern from Harvard University did a series of articles
about low wages paid by some of the largest businesses in La Plata County.
"After the first article of the series appeared, a number of prominent business leaders came to the Herald demanding
that the series be stopped and I be fired," he said. "They threatened to pull their advertising if their demands were
not met. ... The businessmen were told the series would continue and so would I. They pulled their advertising. That
must have been difficult for the Ballantines; some of those advertisers were their close personal friends."
That journalistic integrity came at the cost of another $10,000 loss in advertising revenue.
"Morley took her role here very seriously, both her rights and her responsibilities." Bill Roberts, the editorial
page editor at the Herald since 1990, said.
In Smith's book, he quoted Thompson about the Ballantines' philosophy of newspapering.
"From my perspective," Thompson said, "the Ballantines have always understood that it is not the editorial stance of
the Herald that really influences the community. It is the editorial quality of the Herald that matters. They know
that a newspaper is the most prominent indicator of the openness, tolerance and diversity of the community."
In 1953, Mrs. Ballantine won the first of many awards for her writing from the Colorado Press Association. It was a
first place award for editorial writing for a piece about the right of the president of the United States to
negotiate trade treaties. In 1956, the Herald won 17 CPA Awards, with five garnered by Mrs. Ballantine. One of the
most emotional issues that year was a proposed dog-leash law. Mrs. Ballantine, a champion of individual freedoms, was
against the law, encouraging the city to enforce ordinances already on the books.
In her more than 50 years of writing thousands of editorials and columns at the Herald, she won "dozens and dozens"
of awards, her daughter Elizabeth Ballantine said.
While the Ballantines ran a small newspaper in the isolated southwest corner of the state, they were respected
statewide. The couple received a number of joint awards, including being honored in 1967 by the University of
Colorado School of Journalism for Outstanding Journalism. In 1968, Mrs. Ballantine was named the first woman chair of
the Colorado Associated Press Association.
"She was always up to speed on the issues," former U.S. Rep Scott McInnis said. "And if you weren't up to speed, she
was a quick draw. You'd get popped."
Mrs. Ballantine focused more on writing and her husband on the business affairs of the newspaper. They worked at
desks situated at right angles, and occasionally the paper to run two editorials representing their diverse
viewpoints. One memorable example came in 1968, when he endorsed Richard Nixon, and she came out for Hubert Humphrey.
Working with Morley
"I remember once, I don't remember the topic, I spent quite a lot of time constructing an editorial," Roberts said.
"In the headline, I should have said 'whom' but I said 'who.' The only response I got was the tear sheet with a big
red circle around it. Anyone who spent any time with Morley gets their pronouns straight."
Pat Jetton, who was first the production manager at the Herald and later the operations manager from 1985 to 2000, agreed Mrs. Ballantine had high standards.
"She liked things a certain way," she said.
After Arthur Ballantine died suddenly in 1975, Mrs. Ballantine found herself a widow with the entire weight of Herald
leadership on her shoulders.
"I came back and worked at the Herald for a year then," Elizabeth Ballantine said. "Those were tumultuous times after
Arthur died. There were people she got along with, and people Arthur had gotten along with."
When Richard Ballantine, the oldest of the Ballantines' four children, became publisher in 2003, she was sharing the
responsibilities once again.
Roberts remembered a time when he wrote an editorial about something that was happening in his neighborhood. The
managing editor at the time, David Staats, felt it was a conflict of interest and had Roberts write something that
was equal parts retraction and explanation. Mrs. Ballantine and Richard Ballantine were out of town.
"Richard said that we shouldn't have run it until it was discussed with him when he was back the next day," Roberts
said. "Morley didn't like the idea of a retraction. If you've never been chewed out by Morley Ballantine, you haven't
Newspapering was in her blood
Many of Mrs. Ballantine's principles and talents can be traced back to her family.
"Her father was an important role model," Elizabeth Ballantine said. "John Cowles was a powerful and enlightened
Mrs. Ballantine's grandfather Gardner Cowles Sr. bought The Des Moines Register in 1903, beginning a journalistic
dynasty that is now in its fourth generation. A former representative in the Iowa state House, he had a passionate
commitment to community newspapering and a strong interest in politics, both interests inherited by Mrs. Ballantine
through her father, John Cowles Sr.
John Cowles began his professional newspaper career in 1921 working as a reporter for The Des Moines Register, where
he covered the Iowa legislature. In 1923, he visited the Soviet Union and did a brief stint as a foreign
correspondent at a time when Josef Stalin was maneuvering for power. After that, he was named vice president, general
manager and associate publisher of the Des Moines morning and evening newspapers.
In 1935, Cowles, his father and his brother, Gardner Jr., bought the Minneapolis Star. When other Twin Cities
newspapers complained about an Iowa publisher weighing in on Minnesota's issues, the John Cowles family moved to
Minneapolis. Mrs. Ballantine was 10.
According to the Star Tribune, Cowles is credited with turning Minnesota from an isolationist state to an
internationally engaged one, and leading the fight against anti-Semitism that was openly practiced in the state when
he arrived. Throughout his career, he was an appointed adviser to presidents Harry S. Truman, Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson.
During these years, John Cowles was moving through the chairmanships in some of the professional and business
associations of the journalism industry. In 1929, he was elected as vice president of the Associated Press
news-gathering cooperative, and he served as an AP director from 1934 to 1943.
Mrs. Ballantine was the oldest of four children, and very close to her father, who encouraged his daughter to write, even offering praise for her thank-you notes when she was a girl. After the Ballantines purchased the Durango papers, Mr. Cowles often commented on his daughter's editorials and columns.
"One of my mother's favorite things to do with her father was to walk down to the office," her daughter Helen
Ballantine Healy said, "then go to an afternoon football game."
The Cowles background and the Ballantine family history connected Mrs. Ballantine to national movers and shakers not
normally available to small-town newspaper publishers.
"My mother has been called the 'Kay Graham of Colorado,'" Elizabeth Ballantine said, referring to the late Katharine
Graham, publisher of The Washington Post. "Both were born to powerful newspaper families, and both were pushed to
leadership at the death of a spouse who was a newspaper publisher. (Morley, however, was experienced as a newspaper
columnist.) Both women became charismatic and forceful business and cultural leaders in the aftermath of becoming
widows. Neither remarried."
Mrs. Ballantine grew up with a keen interest in women's and civil rights issues as well as the arts, which were
inspired by her mother, Elizabeth Bates Cowles. Mrs. Cowles was a lifetime member of the National Association for the
Advancement of Colored People and active in the support of the arts in both Des Moines and Minneapolis.
As much as Mrs. Ballantine valued education, having attended Smith College, Stanford University and the University of
Minnesota, she didn't receive her own bachelor's degree until she was almost 50, and she earned it at Fort Lewis
College at the urging of her husband.
"He came from a family of educators and ministers and held traditional education goals in high esteem," the
Ballantine children wrote after Arthur Ballantine died in 1975. "We all had to earn college degrees. Not even Mother
escaped this pressure. Daddy beamed for weeks following her Fort Lewis graduation last spring."
MCB as mother and friend
"It is perhaps in her editorials about bringing up four children that Morley showed her deep reserves of humor and
appreciation of the challenges of daily life," Elizabeth Ballantine said. "Pictures of stacks of dirty dishes, piano
lessons, homework to be done, teenage parties to be chaperoned, school events to attend, a new hairdo: Morley shared
these ordinary household experiences with her readers just as much as her writing on political topics."
Mrs. Ballantine's humor was common at home. Healy remembers her mother letting her brother Bill wear Mrs.
Ballantine's wedding dress in a school play. She was also a competitor who did not like to lose - at cards, tennis or
Not all of the experiences were shared.
"On the day of JFK's assassination, Mother stayed up in the playroom with Bill and me after we came home from Smiley
(Junior High)," Healy said. "I remember feeling so helpless in view of her tears, not having seen her cry much, if at
Both Ballantines were interested in the world beyond Southwest Colorado and traveled frequently. Sometimes it was a
trip to Denver or southern Utah. Other times family visits were to Minnesota or the East. They enjoyed visiting the
family's home in Antigua and sailing in the Caribbean. And they made longer trips to Europe and other far-flung
destinations, once going on a two-month trip to South America, Africa and Europe with Healy and Bill Ballantine. Once
she was a grandmother and her grandchildren became old enough, she organized three-generation trips to Egypt, Turkey
and South Africa.
"She was so much fun to travel with," Elizabeth Ballantine said. "She went on Paul's (Leavitt) and my wedding trip.
We knew if Mother came along, we would meet more people, learn more and have more fun. And she always stayed in very
Drinks with Mrs. Ballantine are a common theme in people's stories about her.
"Ours was always a well-watered household," Elizabeth Ballantine said. "People, ideas, events were always discussed
over a drink."
Mrs. Ballantine always shared things she had learned on the journeys. Column subjects included what Soviet Russia was
like under Communism and the foods of Ecuador.
"She wanted to bring the world to Durango," Elizabeth Ballantine said. "And she did."
Mrs. Ballantine's high standards applied to her grandchildren, as well. She treasured and saved the thank-you notes
they sent her, posting them on the refrigerator.
"I remember standing here one year and reading a note my son Christopher had sent," Mary Lyn Ballantine said. "I said
something about not seeing one from David, and she said, over her shoulder while walking out of the room, 'If there
isn't one there, it's because I didn't get one!' She was very generous to her grandchildren, but she did expect a
Healy remembers arriving with her children after a long drive from Wichita and ordering pizza.
"Pizza in the dining room with candlelight," she said. "They had never thought of the two together before then ...
and that is how dinner was served at Mother's house."
Mary Thompson, the daughter of Mrs. Ballantine's longtime friend and colleague Sally Morrissey, said when her father, John Morrissey, died, the Ballantines told her they would take care of Morrissey.
"And they did, especially after Arthur died," she said. "My mother and Morley would attend all kinds of events, and
at the end of almost every week, they would get together for a drink to discuss the week's current events."
Sheri Rochford, former director of development and alumni relations at Fort Lewis College, said friendship with
Morley was rich and meaningful.
"There was a time in my career where I really needed support," she said, "and she did it very publicly and very
eloquently. I didn't ask or expect her to do it, and it was very humbling."
But Mrs. Ballantine also came from a generation that knew how to have fun, Rochford said.
"All of our talk wasn't about fundraising," she said. "There was girl talk, too, about makeup, and where to get your
hair done and who gives the best facials. I will miss picking up the phone and hearing 'Hello, dear girl.'"
Katherine Barr and Mrs. Ballantine were friends for 30 years. They shared common interests, especially politics.
"One of the things I liked about Morley was her ability to engage people in conversation," Barr said. "One of my
favorite quotes of hers was 'Yes, no and maybe.' It was a door to opening a conversation. I also learned it really is
possible to be real and honest yet diplomatic in conversation."
Healy recalls a family vacation at the Lodge at Chama seven or eight years ago.
"I remember laughing hard with Mother as we looked at each other at 6 in the morning," she said, "the only two (most
unlikely) family members out fishing. The others were sleeping or going riding, and somehow Mother and I were the
only ones enjoying the brisk morning air with fly rods in our hands. I inherited Mother's liking of sleeping late, so
it was doubly funny that we were the first up and out."
Both generations had become anglers at Glendalough, the Cowles family's summer vacation home on Annie Battle Lake in
western Minnesota. By the time the Cowles family donated it to the state of Minnesota for a state park in the late
1980s, five generations, beginning with Gardner Cowles Sr. and continuing through Mrs. Ballantine's grandchildren, had enjoyed family time at Glendalough.
Leadership and giving
The Ballantines brought more than their newspaper skills to La Plata County. They founded the Ballantine Family Fund
in 1957, which has given grants to any nonprofit the family felt would make life better in Southwest Colorado. The
philanthropy by Arthur and Morley Ballantine has often led the way to giving by other foundations and individuals.
"It's appropriate to tell this story since October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month," Joanne Spina, the assistant
manager of La Plata County, said. "The first year of Journey of Hope, which raises money for mammograms for women who
can't afford them, the Ballantine fund and Morley awarded us $500 to start it. That risk-taking, courage and faith in
the idea meant everything. We have now provided hundreds of mammograms and just celebrated our 15th year."
Nancy Whitson has been the executive director of the family fund since 1999. Her introduction to it came when she was
asked to take notes at a meeting.
"Then, in 1998, she asked me to go with her to the first Philanthropy Days," Whitson said. "Then Morley didn't show
up, and I was like, 'Oh, no.' Then she did show up, and I was so relieved." It was the beginning of Whitson's
education in learning how philanthropy worked Mrs. Ballantine style.
In 2007, when the Durango Arts Center named the family Sweethearts of the Arts, Brian Wagner, the arts center's
executive director at the time, said their philanthropic impact went far beyond the checks they wrote.
"When I go to our state's capital to raise money for local arts projects," he said, "the first question is 'Are the
Ballantines supporting this project?' They are trusted as an endorsement for the quality of a project and help to
leverage greater support."
Fort Lewis College and its Center of Southwest Studies have been one of the family's favorite causes. The Ballantines
first supported the school's move into Durango from the Old Hesperus Campus and then its enhancement to a four-year
When John Reed was the college's president, the Ballantines went to him to convince him that the college should have
a facility that would draw scholars from all over the country to study the history of the region. The couple donated
$10,000 to kick off the fundraising campaign and recommended Robert Delaney to be the center's director.
"The center wouldn't have existed without Morley and Arthur," Smith said. "It was their idea, and they made it
In 1980, the library of the center was dedicated to Arthur Ballantine, and by the time the new building opened in
2001, the family had donated more than
$1 million in the first 40 years of the center's existence.
"Morley Ballantine has dedicated much of her life to the support of education, the enrichment of the fine arts and
the preservation of Southwest history and culture," FLC President Robert Dolphin Jr. said in 2004, when Mrs.
Ballantine was the first woman to receive an honorary degree from the school. "Fort Lewis College is particularly
pleased to recognize her unwavering support over the last 50 years."
On the occasion of her 80th birthday, Mrs. Ballantine was asked to reprise her SeÃ±ora San Juan advice column.
One question she received was "Dear SeÃ±ora San Juan: What is the best way to give back to a community you love?"
Her answer reflected the way Morley Ballantine lived her life.
"Fulfill the community needs that you see and esteem," she wrote, "not what somebody else wants."
Herald News Editor Amy Maestas contributed to this story.