Dennis Gallagher Toasted and Roasted at Retirement Party
(by Rodger Hara, from August 2015 Celtic Connection newspaper)
On July 20th, the remarkable 45 year political career of Dennis Gallagher came to a close with the swearing in of the new Denver City Auditor, Tim O’Brien. Dennis was born in Tabernash, Colorado to Ellen Flaherty Gallagher and Bill Gallagher, a home maker and Denver firefighter respectively, with deep roots in County Sligo. He attended public schools in Denver, received a Bachelor of Arts degree in English Literature with a minor in Latin and Greek from Regis College and a Master of Arts degree in Speech and Communications from Catholic University in Washington, D. C. Since 1967, he has been a professor of Speech, Latin, Greek and Media at Regis University.
He served two terms in the Colorado House, five in the Colorado Senate and two on the Denver City Council and was Denver City Auditor for 12 years.
On July 21st, at a dinner/party/roast attended by nearly 300 of his closest friends, Dennis was honored and roasted and toasted in a manner befitting himself and that career. With a Host Committee of Colorado luminaries that included Governor John W. Hickenlooper, former University of Denver Chancellor Daniel Richie, former Regis University President Father Michael Sheeran, S.J. and many, many more, the roasting and tribute delivery was done by Governor Hickenlooper, Westword Editor Patty Calhoun, Denver District Attorney Mitch Morrisey, Father Sheeran, Colorado State Speaker of the House Dickey Lee Hullinghorst and legendary lobbyist Pueblo Wally Stealey and old friend Gary Salley.
In attendance were many familiar names from the Irish community, including John and Una Nallen, Tom Fitzgerald, Jim Walsh, Flossie O’Leary, Michael Carrigan, Timothy Flanaghan, Kevin O’Connor, Jim Cavanaugh and Michael Reagan III. Congratulations in the program came from such as The Honorable Ben Briscoe, Lord Mayor of London, Timmy Conway and Anita Noel Cawley in Ireland, Fr. John P. Fitzgibbons, S.J., President of Regis University, the members of the James Joyce Society
Dennis’ long-time partner in crime/tours/books Tom “Dr. Colorado” Noel served as Master of Ceremonies and was able to sneak in a few sly digs of his own while introducing the roasters who entertained the audience with remarks on Dennis’ life and career. Tom introduced Governor John Hickenlooper by telling the crowd how Dennis enabled him to move into politics when he sponsored the bill approving the creation of brewpubs. The Governor spoke of Dennis’ character and commented on how the facts that he doesn’t drink, swear, smoke or tell bawdy jokes make him an atypical Irishman – “I think he’s more Amish than Irish!” Much fun was poked at Dennis about his thrifty shopping habits for clothing including an apocryphal story shared by the Governor that Dennis at one time had dated an heir to the Maytag Appliance fortune; Gov. Hickenlooper said that “…while he still wouldn’t have any new clothes, at least they would all be clean.” In the Letterman tradition, the Governor closed with a musing on the Top Ten things that Dennis won’t do now that he’s retired, the top of which was “He will never stop giving generously to people in need or being a pillar of the community.”
Dr. Tom introduced Father Michael Sheeran by reminding the audience of Dennis’ long relationship with Regis College/University and his annual trips to Ireland where he taught students how to drink beer. Father Sheeran delivered a video tribute in which he addressed Dennis as “Senator Gallahad” for the way he attacked problems. He spoke lovingly of having accompanied Dennis and the students on a trip to Ireland and how he stood at the front of the bus at each stop and “…explained the history and astrological significance of the site and quoted Yeats in addition and sometimes even did it accurately.” Fr. Sheeran went on to describe how Dennis would move from table to table in the restaurants where they would stop for meals, engaging with total strangers, giving them his card and telling them to call him if they ever came to Denver. With a twinkle in his eye, Fr. Sheeran said that he “Watched very carefully, and never once did he see Dennis hand out a form requesting an absentee ballot”.
District Attorney Mitch Morrisey followed with what could have been a good stand-up comedy routine on open night mike at a comedy club. He opened with the comment that he’ll probably never be able to forget Dennis, “…although he hopes that the therapy will help someday”. He then asked if people knew the difference between Dennis and God: when no one answered, he explained that “While Dennis walks around Denver thinking he’s God, God doesn’t wander around Denver thinking he’s Dennis”. The DA then spoke about parking in the Webb Building next to Dennis and said that “…while Dennis loves running into people around town, from the looks of his car, people love running into him too. Not that he’s a dangerous driver: he drives so slowly that if he hits anything, he’s not going fast enough to hurt anyone. And with Dennis, you’ll never get a hit and run accident – instead you get a hit and amble away. Can anyone in this room imagine Dennis running?” He went on to dispel rumors about Dennis including one that “Dennis does such a good job on tours of cemeteries around town because he knew everyone who’s buried there” and another that he “Survived the sinking of the Titanic with Molly Brown. In fact, an iceberg is about the only thing he hasn’t hit with his car.” He closed with the observation that many people leave their jobs because of illness when their bosses get sick of them and that for Dennis that has never been the case: “Dennis, you have always worked for the people and we’re really going to miss you”.
Given that tough act to follow, Patty Calhoun, Editor of Westword picked up the gauntlet that Mr. Morrisey threw and with great aplomb, lobbed it back with a Top Ten list of her own that she said she retrieved from his wastebasket laying out the audits that he always wanted to do. As she began with number Ten, she turned to the head table and said “I’m sorry Governor. I thought you’d be gone by now. Number Ten, Why you don’t get a pint when you order a pint at the Wynkoop Brewing Company where the Wasted Friday Afternoon Club always meets, calculate those short pours and the cost to the citizens of Denver for squandering those liquid assets.” Number Five was “Investigate why Denver Public Schools doesn’t teach proper penmanship” (a nod to the legendary and elegant calligraphy for which Dennis is famous. He wrote the name of each guest on over three hundred name tags and the first page inside the cover of the Auditor’s annual report and the program for the roast features The Athenian Oath that “…idealizes the issue of public trust…” in calligraphy framed within a border of Celtic knots and animals worthy of the Book of Kells). Number Three, “Investigate downtown real estate development and determine why The Old Spaghetti Factory is open and Duffy’s Tavern is closed.” She closed with Number One: “Determine how many angels can actually dance on a pinhead. And like Dennis Gallagher, I’m withholding signature on this document.”
Colorado Speaker of the House Dickie Lee Hullinghorst was next via video. She reminisced about their time together in the House when Dennis “…used to play practical jokes on the Republicans and a few Protestant Democrats…” She went on to praise him for his being a champion of the poor, standing tall for civil rights, the environment and historic preservation. In closing, she observed that it was hard to find words with which to roast him and instead toasted him by saying “I hope that by this time in the evening you’re well roasted to well done and that well done is the operative phrase, because Dennis, your over 45 years of service to the people of Colorado has been well done. Very well done. So my very best to you in your retirement.”
The last speaker was Wally Stealey, who Tom introduced as a living legend who really knows what’s going on. He opened by observing that “Good golly almighty. I thought this was supposed to be a roast. This is a love fest!” He noted that a current legislator, seeing them together at the Capitol observed that “You know, if each of you lost an inch, you’d look like two basketballs”. Speaking about their 45 year friendship, Mr. Stealey spoke fondly of the days in which he worked closely with Dennis at the State House and with regret over his not being elected Mayor of Denver. He praised Dennis’ accomplishments, especially the renowned Gallagher Amendment to the State Constitution and the leadership Dennis exhibited in leading a vote to override a veto of a bill by then Governor Roy Romer that would have allowed the creation of the state lottery. Mr. Stealey told the story of how when called on the carpet by Governor Romer, Dennis asked him if could explain the difference between number 34 on the Lotto machine and B-12 on a bingo card. The veto was overridden, Governor Romer didn’t speak to Dennis for over 90 days and today we have Lotto. He closed with the presentation of a cigar from his factory in Nicaragua to Dennis in the hope that in the years to come, that Dennis would “…look at it, think of two basketballs and my name would come up.”
Dennis closed with brief remarks expressing his joy at being with everyone that night, thanked them for coming and directed everyone’s attention to a love letter to the people of Denver that was included in the program. He said that the love letter was inspired by Rabbi Manuel Laderman of the Hebrew Education Alliance who wrote a letter like that to his congregation when he retired in 1971 and that he thought that when he retired, he would write a similar letter to the people of Denver. He thanked all the roasters, pointed out his son Daniel Patrick Gallagher and the people who helped put the event together. As you would expect from a Sligo man of such letters, he closed with a quote from William Butler Yeats: “Think where man’s glory begins and ends, and say my glory was I had such friends.”
(To see pictures of the event, The Athenian Oath and Dennis’ love letter to the people, please visit the Celtic Connection Facebook page: www.facebook.com/celtic.rockies )