Greeley Tribune Editor Emeritus Randy Bangert dies at 63 after battle with cancer
The Greeley Tribune newsroom was somber Wednesday morning. A few eyes were wet. Alumni staffers visited, exchanging hugs with former co-workers. The door of one corner office was locked, with a nameplate in the window:
Even those newcomers who never worked with Bangert were watching this, listening, getting caught up in the emotions.
They couldn’t help it.
Some had met Bangert. Some had not. But his reputation as a man, as a journalist, as a boss and as a friend was well-known to most veteran newspaper professionals in Colorado. Regardless of where they worked.
By now, as an editor looking at this story, Bangert probably would be saying get to the point. Don’t get too maudlin. Where’s this opinion coming from? Get the facts and his age right. And then move on. The world goes on, and The Tribune’s job is to chronicle it all here, fairly, thoroughly and accurately. For the public good.
OK, here comes the straight stuff: Bangert, who spent 43 years at the Greeley Tribune, including 12 as the newspaper’s editor, died at 3 a.m. Wednesday at his home in Eaton after a battle with pancreatic cancer.
He was 63 years old. He is survived by his wife, Jan, who married him in 1977, and three children — Scott, Mary and Robyn.
“He was kind, thorough and he was always there for his kids when they needed him,” Jan said. “Me, too. He was a good man. They say you marry your dad. He was good like my dad.”
Daughter Mary noted: “Somehow he managed to split his time up between everybody and everything, and we never felt — or I never felt — like he wasn’t there. He did a really good job of being there for everybody.”
“He would come to the (Bangert child’s) game, then go back to work,” Jan said.
Back to the newsroom, his second home.
Jan said Randy was proud of his role as a journalist, and of The Tribune.
“I don’t think he would have worked 24 hours a day, seven days a week if he wasn’t,” she said. “This was his life.”
The Wednesday news was not unexpected. When he was diagnosed late last year with what is among the most insidious and sneaky of cancers, it was far along. He was named The Tribune’s editor emeritus in March. When he was inducted into the Colorado Press Association’s Hall of Fame in April, the sadly inevitable outcome was apparent.
“It’s been hard and not what I expected, either, even after the initial diagnosis,” he told The Tribune’s Dan England in early April. “I know lots of people on chemo, so I thought I’d be able to work. But you begin to discover how serious and how far along it is.”
On Wednesday, looking back on his fight, his wife said: “He never complained. I mean, if his back hurt, yes. But he never asked, ‘Why me?’, he never complained, he just took it. And the first time he said something was Saturday. One of the (caregivers) asked him how he was doing when they walked him and he said, ‘Not too good.’ That’s the first time. He never said, ‘I could be better.’ He just handled it with dignity.”
Bangert was exposed to the newspaper business when he was young — and not only because he delivered the Littleton Independent. His father, Vern, was the co-owner. Randy attended Littleton’s Arapahoe High School, then came to the University of Northern Colorado. As many future career journalists did, he worked part-time in the business through college, first as a clerk and then as a sportswriter. He even earned and accepted a full-time position in 1974, while still attending UNC.
He soon became sports editor and then moved to the news side as assistant city editor in 1982.
He never worked anywhere else.
“I’m going to miss the guy,” Tribune publisher Bryce Jacobson said. “He made a hell of a difference in my life, and I know he’s made a big difference in the community and with his reporters.”
Retired Tribune reporter and columnist Mike Peters still writes for the paper.
“He was a great boss,” Peters said. “I knew him since he came here 45 years ago. I was working on the news side when he came in to sports. He was just a good friend, a good boss. I’m glad he’s not suffering any more. I think that’s important. He went through a terrible time. That’s over now. I hope his family can stay strong.”
Peters was among a small contingent of past and present Tribune staffers that visited Bangert Friday.
“We didn’t say good bye in those words because we didn’t want to depress him or his family, but it was a good bye,” Peters said.
And a salute.
“He was concerned about the paper and about Greeley,” Peters said. “He wasn’t overpowering or anything like that. He knew his business, knew the community and people respected him. The people around the community liked Randy and knew what he was doing. He was very good for the newspaper.”
Nate Miller is Bangert’s successor as The Tribune’s editor.
“It’s hard to sum up Randy’s impact on me. In a lot of ways, I learned everything I know from him,” Miller said. “He was a coach and a mentor for me from the time I started as an intern at The Tribune all the way until his passing. I’m incredibly lucky to have learned from him and worked with him for as long as I did. I’ll miss him immensely.”
England, The Tribune’s features editor, was close with Bangert, and it went beyond editor and writer.
“I’ve had better line editors, but Randy taught me everything about being a friend, a mentor, a boss and in many ways an ear and voice to the public,” England said. “I’m still trying to live up to his enormous standards.”
Bangert left a trail of friends. In some cases, they scattered geographically. In some cases, they stayed in Greeley. But they stayed friends with Bangert.
At Arapahoe High, three friends — Bangert, Steve Luhm and Neal Rubin — all moved on to UNC and all became sportswriters.
Luhm, recently retired from the Salt Lake Tribune, also was Bangert’s freshman year dormitory roommate at UNC.
“He was one of the most genuinely nice people I’ve ever met,” Luhm said. “This is heartbreaking to all who knew him. Prayers to his family. He was a Hall of Famer in every sense.”
Already the sports editor, Bangert hired Rubin at the Tribune in October 1977, near the beginning of Rubin’s final year of college. When told the news Wednesday morning, an emotional Rubin needed time to collect himself before offering his thoughts.
“Randy was a year ahead of me in high school and increased his lead to two years by the time I finished at UNC, even though he was already working at The Tribune and doing responsible things while he powered through college,” Rubin said. “He wasn’t averse to having fun, but he was sort of prematurely mature, and he was always able to stay focused on what truly mattered.
“He was a terrific editor, on the short list of the best I’ve had, and a borderline saint to put up with me. … I may have shown a few glimmers of talent, but I had all the maturity of a cocker spaniel puppy. The best editors find ways to emphasize your attributes while helping you buff and polish the rough parts, and that’s what he did with me.”
U.S. Rep. Ken Buck, R-Colo., considered Bangert a sounding board.
“I will miss Randy a great deal,” the congressman said. “He was a great person to talk to in the community to get a feel for how people react to different issues. He was such a professional. I loved working with him. … We’d have a difference of opinion. I wouldn’t say we argued. I never raised my voice with Randy, and he never raised his voice with me. There were times we disagreed on issues and I felt that the newspaper had been unfair and he looked at it and changed things. There were times he looked at it and didn’t change things. But he always gave me the opportunity to visit about it and I always appreciated that.”
Buck recalled meeting Bangert to talk last August.
“He told me he had a backache,” Buck said. “A couple of months later, I hear that it was cancer causing the backache.”
Greeley city manager Roy Otto also discussed serious issues with Bangert while also developing a personal friendship, involving such things as their faith.
“I’m in government, you guys are the enemy!” Otto said. “There were times we had differences of opinion, but another way that I looked at my relationship with Randy is that we could have that and still have the friendship. It seems like that is becoming less and less prevalent in our culture and I’m just fortunate that we could have disagreements and never lose our friendship.”
He added, “One of my takeaways from him was his passion for student issues, informing me towards ways the city of Greeley could help the school districts to help those kids. I think that’s a legacy of his as well.”
Leonard Weist was one of Otto’s predecessors, serving as city manager from 1996-2005. Weist’s relationship with Bangert goes as far back as when Weist was the city’s finance director and Bangert was a pesky reporter.
“He was a great guy,” Weist said. “Through the years, as he got promotions, he was always fair and wrote an unbiased story and covered both sides of an issue if there was two sides to an issue, which there usually is. He and I might have been the only Dodgers fans in Greeley after the Rockies came in, so we had that in common, we talked about that every spring.”
Retiring Greeley police chief Jerry Garner called Bangert “a true professional. I could call him and I know everybody and his pet duck has called him in Greeley to complain about something. You spelled my name wrong, or you got this wrong, and he was always patient and truly professional about listening through the story, whether he agreed with you or not.
“I will remember him for his courtesy and his professionalism and as someone I truly enjoyed talking with. You could go off the record and share something with Randy on background to make a story more clear or maybe your reason for doing something more clear and you knew that he wouldn’t betray that confidence, and that means a lot to someone like me.”
By Wednesday afternoon, the Bangert family had visited The Tribune newsroom. Randy’s office was opened and the family cleaned out many of Randy’s professional belongings. They left behind his old-fashioned Rolodex. It wasn’t even close to thick enough to hold cards for all who respected Randy.
Services for Bangert will be private.
—Terry Frei writes features and columns for The Greeley Tribune. He can be reached at (970) 392-4424 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @tfrei.
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