Frederick W. Gillies; AB 1950; died September 25, 2013
Frederick W. Gillies
Retired Post Reporter
Fred Gillies was an investigative reporter who used all the tools he could lay his hands on, including a pickaxe to dig up a murder suspect's basement. The year was 1969 and Fred, then a reporter at the Denver Post, was on the trail of Thomas Riha, a history professor at the University of Colorado in Boulder who had mysteriously vanished from his home. After getting permission from the owners, Fred partially excavated the basement of the house where the body of the missing professor was rumored to have been buried. The Rocky Mountain News, which was lagging far behind in its coverage, learned of the excavation and wrote a story headlined, "In the news game, it's the digging that counts." The newspaper went on to say, "The Riha story has produced a stimulating competition between the two daily newspapers - and has reportedly caused staffers on both sides of the fence to lose sleep at times. But no one at the News has yet resorted to the pick and shovel approach."
The case, which was never solved, was only one of the many stories that Fred covered during his long career at the Post. After serving as editor of the Salida Mountain Mail in the mid-1960s, Fred joined the Post in 1968 and worked there until his retirement in 1987. In 1981 Fred was named "Journalist of the Year" by the Colorado chapter of Professional Journalists for reporting that contributed to the passage of the state's child abuse legislation, then among the toughest and most advanced in the nation.
Todd Engdahl, who as a young reporter worked with Fred at the Post, remembered his relentless effort to raise public awareness about child abuse, which didn't get as much attention then as it does now. "As I recall, part of Fred's effort was to open up the closed meetings of a group of Denver officials that met weekly to review child abuse cases. Getting that done was a major victory for him. Having succeeded in getting the meetings open, Fred was zealous about making sure he attended every one. Of course he couldn't go to every one - illness or vacation or other commitments got in the way sometimes. But every meeting had to be covered by a Post reporter. I remember as a young reporter being assigned to a meeting and being exhaustively coached by Fred beforehand about what to look for, how to interpret what was said and generally how to cover the story. I don't think I've ever been as well prepared for any assignment, nor as nervous about whether I was going to do it correctly." After retiring from the Post Fred taught journalism at Metropolitan State College in Denver, where he was loved by his students.
Fred passed away in his sleep on Sept. 25, 2013, just nine days short of his 92nd birthday. His funeral service is scheduled for Friday, Oct. 11, at 10:30 a.m. at Fort Logan National Cemetery staging area "B".
Fred was born in Boston, Massachusetts and served in the Army during World War II in England, North Africa, and Italy where he was awarded the Bronze Star. He graduated cum laude from Harvard University after the war. A longtime resident of Capitol Hill, he was a quiet and thoughtful man who enjoyed reading and gardening. He ate simply - oatmeal for breakfast, a sandwich for lunch, fish and vegetables for dinner. "He was very health conscious," recalled Roni Skinner, a friend, swimming daily at the downtown YMCA until late in life.
Fred had a decades-long friendship with Larry Zarbock, who lived within walking distance of Fred's house and became Fred's primary caregiver in later years. Fred and Larry often took walks together in Alamo Placita Park and when Fred grew too frail to walk, Larry pushed him in his wheelchair. Larry, who was 68 years old, worked as a merchandising manager for JC Penney Company and passed away on Aug. 21, 2013. Fred missed Larry deeply and his health declined rapidly in the month following his friend's death. "He talked a lot about how grateful he was for Larry," Skinner recalled.
Janet Clark, who lived next door, remembered Fred as a considerate neighbor. "He was always appreciative of small kindnesses and seemed to enjoy hearing about the people and happenings in the neighborhood. He always put a flag out on his porch for national holidays." Jane Prancan, another neighbor, remembered how kind he was to her dogs. "He bought Milk Bones that he would give to them when he went in and out of the house. They stood at the fence, tails wagging anytime they heard Fred. And Scrappy, my little terrier mix, is a terrible barker. He goes to Fred's side of the fence and barks at other dogs as they go by. Every time I apologized to Fred about his barking, Fred would say, 'Of course, he barks. That's what dogs do.'"
Fred's surviving relatives include sister-in-law, Eleanor Ferreira of Chelmsford, Massachusetts; nephew and spouse, Randolph and Warna Gillies, of Frankfurt, Germany; nephew and spouse, David and Kimberly Gillies, of Chelmsford, Mass.; nephew and spouse, Jeffrey and Nance Gillies, also of Chelmsford, Mass.; two great nephews, Neal Gillies of McLean, Virginia, and Stephen Gillies of Chelmsford, Mass.; and a great niece, Chelsea Gillies, also of Chelmsford, Mass.
[Published in The Denver Post on October 10, 2013]