By Wally Hofmann
Dan Haydon was one of my favorite Democrats. He also had skinnier legs than I do. And as a recovering-Republican-turned-Independent, I seldom agreed with Dan on any political or environmental issue.
But I loved Dan and he will forever be in my heart.
He was one of my favorite locals because he gave everything he had to help others. I also believe God put Dan on this earth to serve a greater purpose, and to teach us a lesson about how to live with integrity and passion.
Dan will rightly be remembered as one of Mammoth’s great pioneers. He is a legend who stands with the likes of Dave McCoy, Tom Dempsey, Sam Walker, and Andrea Mead Lawrence. These people not only did great things, but they inspired many others to follow their example of serving the greater good of Mammoth.
Those of us who worked alongside these Mammoth giants in the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s know their stories. They didn’t stand around waiting for some organization, some company, or some government agency, to get something done. No, these people helped us figure out who we were, what we could do, and how we could help build a hospital, a college, a culture and a community.
In the summer of 1986, it was Dan who privately encouraged me to start a newspaper that celebrated the wonder and richness of Mammoth Lakes and the Eastern Sierra. It was Dan who stood before a group of locals and gave voice to what many were thinking: We needed a newspaper that more accurately reflected the real Mammoth.
Those who knew Dan know he wasn’t one to mince words. I have vivid memories of Dan passionately expressing his opinion in that unmistakable high-pitched voice, late into the night from a dinner table in the Mogul Restaurant.
“Those a–holes at the Mono Herald don’t give a rat’s a– about our town,” he’d say. “I told (the general manager), ‘We don’t want a local newspaper with axe murders on the front page!’ I begged them to listen to me, but they wouldn’t. So I told ‘em, ‘We’re going to start a competing newspaper!’ And he just smirked at me and said (with Dan mimicking a southern drawl), ‘Geev it yur best shot … ya’all just gonna fail.’”
At one pivotal Mammoth Times organizational meeting, Dan stood up and said, “I’m behind Wally and his newspaper 110%.”
If history keeps a batting average for small town passion, Dan is a Louisville slugger.
My wish for every small town newspaper publisher is that they have a “Dan Haydon” in their life. People like Dan tell it like it is, and wise newspaper people will listen. We were at our best not when we wrote a brilliant opinion, but when we listened and accurately told each others’ stories.
Today, I still appreciate people like Dan who express themselves — even in the most colorful language — not behind my back, but to my face.
Many a Thursday morning Dan would walk right past receptionist Sue Bouska and straight into my office to tell me about a “major screw-up” by the Town, the Mountain or even the Mammoth Times.
In one memorable April Fools Day issue, I had reported on page 28, with the ballsiest Stephen Colbert-like whit, that a volcano had erupted on Mammoth Mountain the previous week. Dan’s first reaction was predictable — outrage: “How’d Rusty (Gregory, MMSA CEO) and the Ski Area hide this from us?” he yelled. Once he discovered he’d been punk’d, he turned into one of my staunchest defenders among some of the more humorless Realtors and Chamber members.
So, it’s my privilege to come out of the witness protection program (more humor) and honor Dan as one of the secrets to the Mammoth Times’ early success. I’m sure there are many more stories from locals whose lives were touched by acts of kindness that can be traced back to Dan’s doorstep.
I thank God for bringing Dan into my life in such a profound way.
Some people come into our lives and quickly go.
Some people move our souls to dance.
They awaken us to new understanding with the passing whisper of their wisdom.
Some people make the sky more beautiful to gaze upon.
They stay in our lives for awhile, leave footprints in our hearts, and we are never, ever the same.
Wally Hofmann was Founder and President of Mammoth Times from 1987-1999.