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My View: Bill Roberts brought much to our Opinion pages

Ann Marie Swan (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

Bill Roberts, former Editorial Editor for The Durango Herald from 1990 to 2017, served up opinions the way I like my coffee – strong. It takes guts to do that. To be rooted and able to defend a position, even when it isn’t popular.

As a retired person, Bill had that free rein in guest columns and enjoyed not holding back. He brought much to our Opinion pages with his perspectives and personality.

Bill’s voice was clearly his own. A sign of a confident, authentic writer. Someone who writes the way he communicates in person.

My friendship with Bill was unlikely. Bill was a longtime fixture on the Durango scene and I was a newcomer to this community two years ago to become Opinion Editor. Bill stood out. Not only because he’s very tall. Warm and funny, he was as curious about me as I was about his experience as editor.

We became fast friends and spent much time connecting at the office, talking on the phone and solving the Southwest’s – and the world’s – problems over lunches. En route to those lunches, Bill pointed out what businesses used to be where, who ran off with whose spouse, the rumbles and shenanigans he’d seen in the streets over many decades.

Bill was my guide to this town. Any outing included the history of goings-on. I relied on him, too, to fill in the gaps of who did what to whom and what happened next.

Stories in every direction.

When running errands in town, Bill often dropped by. Poking his head into my office, he’d say, “Got a minute?” That minute usually turned into 30 or more. When he wanted to float an idea, he’d show up and say, “What do you think?”

I loved that easy, breezy way about him. His popping in was the best compliment.

Our phone calls usually began with the subject of his next guest column. Sometimes, he wanted to write about a topic he’d already covered. I pushed him to seek new ways in. He gently pushed back. In the end, he usually went with his original idea, which was fine. He had earned his place on the page.

Our conversations were often long and open-ended, veering off into weightier, existential problems, segueing to what we were each making for dinner.

Calls were often timed while one of us chopped vegetables or did dishes or took a walk. In our busy lives, it’s rare to give and take that kind of attention. With Bill, it was natural. Now, I see how special our conversations were. Even when they were mundane.

During some rough patches, Bill took my calls. There was no forethought in reaching out to him – I just pulled out my phone. He listened without trying to fix my situations. That’s all I needed.

Excited about launching into a new phase in his life, Bill looked forward to more time with his wife, Cathy, newly retired. In December, he and Cathy met a couple of Bill’s friends he worked with in the ‘70s at Sweeney’s restaurant. Cathy has likely heard all of Bill’s stories, but she listened to the same treasured memories told from someone else. And Bill was giddy, cracking up most of the afternoon.

Enjoying a recent flurry of connecting with old buddies, Bill sought them out for lunch or a check-in phone call.

I still can’t believe he’s passed. Just this week, in a moment of magical thinking, I kept an eye out for him in City Market. Knowing that he shopped there, I always do. I thought to pitch an idea to him, ask if he could submit his column sooner. Tell him about a shift I see coming in my life.

As a fairly new friend, I certainly don’t have the history with Bill and his family. Still, he was someone significant in my life in Durango.

On difficult work days, he encouraged me. In his time as an editor, he did things differently. But he appreciated my need to make my own imprint on these pages, based on what I’ve learned up to this point.

We agreed on what mattered. Seeing this work as serving readers. Digging deep to be courageous when it’s easier and less stressful to cave. Giving the benefit of the doubt to letter writers and being gentle with people with worldviews different than our own.

Bill was fun. Quick to laugh. Dependable. A decent person. And I’m grateful for all he gave me in the short time I knew him.

Ann Marie Swan is Opinion Editor for The Durango Herald and The Journal in Cortez.