Gary Hansen working on a trail to the Jonathan Mine building for the Ouray Trail Group. Photo by Karen Risch
By Sheridan Block
After a thirteen-month battle against cancer, Gary Hansen of Ouray passed away at home on Friday, July 5.
A well-loved member of the community, Hansen is remembered as a passionate, dedicated, and eccentric individual. He loved adventure and innovation as much as he loved his family and his community.
Having worked as an electronics research engineer before retiring to Ouray in 2002, Hansen was one for ingenuity. His eldest daughter Carli Hansen recalled several inventions he came up with, including a makeshift hovercraft made out of a sheet of wood and a leaf blower.
"He was kind of a mad scientist, always sort of inventing things, and had lots of projects," she said. "He was always just rigging up stuff… if he wanted something and they didn't make it, he made it himself."
As much as he enjoyed science and technology, Hansen held a deep appreciation for the natural world. Although he grew up in southern California with a love for the ocean, Hansen developed an affinity for the mountainous terrain that Ouray had to offer. He spent many hours exploring the San Juan Mountains, taking up rock climbing, mountain climbing, skiing, skydiving, and hiking. He and his youngest daughter Bonnie Hansen often hiked to the summit of Mt. Sneffels during the summers and would take camping trips together. Hansen also spent some of his time volunteering with the Ouray Trail Group.
Other hobbies Hansen found himself involved with included gem collecting, jewelry making, aviation, astronomy, computer programming, and magic. His wife Chris Hansen said he participated as a member and was the president of the International Brotherhood of Magicians Ring 60 when he lived in Austin, Texas.
Above all, Hansen had an unquenchable thirst for knowledge, which was especially vital in his role as a member of the Ouray City Council.
"What I loved about Gary is he always wanted information to help him make as informed a decision as he could," said City Administrator Patrick Rondinelli. "He was such a student of wanting to learn… his wealth of knowledge, the way it grew over the years, was incredible."
Over the year, Hansen took the time to attend the Colorado Municipal League with other councilors and staff members. He went to conferences and sessions offered, taking part in the organization's "MUNIversity," a training program for elected officials. Though Hansen did not attend the conference this year, Rondinelli said he was presented with a certificate of completion for the first level in the program, which staff wanted to award to him at a council meeting. Mayor Bob Risch delivered the certificate to Hansen last week before his death.
Hansen proudly served as a councilor until his death. Before being elected as a councilor in 2009, Hansen was also elected as a member of the Home Rule Charter Committee from November 2008 to May 2009.
Hansen was near the end of his four-year term when he passed. Despite his illness, he continued to show his dedication and passion for the community, a strength which many of his fellow council members admired and respected.
"I never knew anybody that shows such passion for civil service," said councilor John Ferguson. "He really liked being a councilor and worked really hard at it. He was very prepared every time he showed up… you knew Gary had done his homework."
Council member Michael Underwood added that his interest was in responsible governance; he looked out for the greater good for the entire community.
"The community is going to miss Gary, he's one of those people that make the community work," said Risch. "He really leaves a hole in the council."
Hansen's seat on council was up for reelection this November. His death leaves a vacancy for the next four months that the council will need to fill as several important decisions, including the topic of Amendment 64, need to be made. In section 2.5 of the Home Rule Charter, which Hansen helped draft in early 2009, states that vacancies "shall be filled by the affirmative vote of a majority of the remaining Council members." The appointed councilor will serve until that appointed term concludes.
Rondinelli said that typically council looks for previous councilors who understand how the system works but may not necessarily be interested in running this year. City council has yet to have any formal discussions on the subject.
"Gary was an incredibly strong man, and even during his illness, which we discovered 13 months ago, he never let it break his spirit. He fought his terrible disease valiantly right up to the end," said wife Chris. "He loved life so much, and did not give it up lightly."
Hansen is survived by his wife Christine, and his daughters Carli (20) and Bonnie (18). A memorial service will be held on Saturday, July 20 at 11 a.m. in the Ouray Community Center. In lieu of flowers, the family requests memorial donations be made to the Second Chance Humane Society or the Ouray Trail Group.
"I'm really sad that he's gone but he lived more than anyone I know," said daughter Carli. "He knew what was important in life… He told me there's a difference between being wealthy and being rich. If you have a lot of friends and family and people that love you, and you do what you love, that's what's important."