For a native Wisconsinite (go Badgers, as he was fond of quipping) Dennis Curran had an uncanny understanding of what made Wyoming work.
Maybe this was because his unflappable demeanor included superior listening skills; or perhaps it was because he had spent time in Montana, covering bitter partisan politics (he had a column at the Missoulian called Den’s Den), and that he grasped the importance of getting all sides of the story. As a reporter and editor in Wyoming, he bent over backwards to understand issues and not make assumptions.
Curran embodied old-school reporting, a world-view that held decency and fairness at its core. Curran had little fear of asking difficult questions but, by all accounts, utterly lacked malicious intent. This balancing act made for compelling man. “For quite a length of time, he was the heart and soul of Wyoming journalism,” said Scott Farris.
Farris was United Press International’s Cheyenne bureau chief at a time when Curran occupied the same position for UPI’s main competitor, the Associated Press. Their offices sat directly across the hall from each other. “We could be very competitive on bigger stories,” said Farris, “but when we stay up late on winter nights, trying to get in those last high school sports scores, Denny would say, “All right. I’ll give you the game in Hulett if you tell me what went on in Sundance.”
Curran rarely disappointed the recipients of his copy. “He was peerless as a wire service reporter: he was thorough, accurate, and fast,” said Pete Williams, former news director for K2 News in Casper and now the U.S. Supreme Court reporter for NBC. “He was also very smooth. His writing always looked like he had spent weeks polishing it up.”
Curran was renowned for his culinary skills and appreciation of fine food. Those camping with him could expect a full compliment of spices and hors d’oeuvres on the trail. Curran demarcated road trips by distance between restaurants and eateries. He knew them all. His annual fete for reporters still evokes memories. “Every year before the legislature started, Denny would have the press corps over to his house for a meal,” said Williams. “It was understood among reporters this was a far more important gathering than anything we attended at the legislature.”
At these parties he was often seen, glass of scotch in hand, stroking his clipped beard and listening to someone’s passionate diatribe and then saying, “Well, I don’t know about that. Have you considered it from another point of view?”
He loved history and politics, especially Wyoming politics. “When I was working at K2, I could call him up and ask him about anything. He mentored many a young reporter about Wyoming politics,” said Williams.
“He always had the bigger picture in mind and wanted to tackle subjects beyond the stereotypical Wyoming story,” said Farris.
It’s not a moneyed life, being a journalist in Wyoming, and Curran tried on other hats. For nearly eight years, he served as press secretary for Governor Mike Sullivan, who remembers Curran for his loyalty, professionalism and courtesy. Sullivan recalls valuing Curran for his ability to speak plainly. “If you (as governor) don’t surround yourself with those willing to speak the truth, you’re in trouble.”
Yet “I never heard him speak a bad word about anyone, nor a word in anger. He was always calm and level-headed,” said Sullivan.
He tried lobbying for a spell, then running a consulting firm. Eventually, journalism pulled him back in. At an age when most consider retirement, Curran, almost single-handedly, began in April of 2000 to put together the Wyoming Business Report. When Curran declared himself editor emeritus eleven years later in April, 2011, ready to give retirement a serious shot, the paper had a staff of 10 and circulation of 6,500.
He kept on writing, though.
“Denny decided Wyoming was this great place,” said Farris. “He loved Wyoming as much as any native, probably more,” said Farris. “And not only did he like writing stories about this place, he also thought it should prosper and grow and diversify.”
As he grew older, he stopped serious hiking and running marathons (he completed 10), but carved out his hours, as Shakespeare might have said, fly-fishing, especially the Encampment River, cooking, and looking after his family. “He was one of those rare people who brought people together,” said Farris. “Good food, good wine and good conversations meant the world to Denny. He was a dear, dear friend and shall be missed.”
To read an April 2011 column by Dennis Curran, click here.
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