Henrietta Wise Hay, a self-described “liberal in a conservative town,” whose life of 106 years spanned two world wars and the century she referred to as “the most progressive in history,” died July 25.
A celebration of her life is to be scheduled as soon as it’s safe to do so.
Hay, a native of Rocky Ford, was long a featured columnist for The Daily Sentinel, as well as a broadcaster on Grand Junction radio stations in the 1940s and 1960s.
She also was a librarian at the Mesa County Public Library for more than 25 years.
Hay, a lifelong supporter of women’s rights, also was among the founders of the Western Slope chapter of the National Organization for Women and served on the Colorado Women’s Rights Commission.
Though perhaps best known for her column in The Daily Sentinel, Hay had wide-ranging accomplishments, not all of them immediately visible, said Terry Pickens, whose acquaintance with Hay spanned more than 50 years and included Hay as a relative in all but blood (“She’s in all the family photos,”) as well as a fellow employee and a stint as Hay’s boss.
Hay was best known as an activist and a columnist “and that’s how she wants to be remembered,” Pickens said.
But those descriptions fall short of her full list of accomplishments, Pickens said.
Hay was, for instance, an early adopter of the computerized world, an asset that paid off for the public library, Pickens said.
During her more than a quarter of a century in working for the library as a cataloger, Hay automated the library’s collection by logging each book into the system, at first using punch cards.
The best way to get that project done when Pickens took over as library director was simply to let Hay do the job that no one else completely understood, so Pickens put her friend in charge and stepped aside.
“Her importance can’t be overstated in making sure that it all happened just the way it should,” Pickens said.
Hay’s radio show, titled, perhaps incongruously to the modern ear, “All Things Domestic Diary,” gave her an early voice and led to one of her favorite experiences, Pickens said.
The contradiction of her on a radio show geared to housewives wasn’t lost on Hay, her son John said.
“She did what she had to do,” John said.
The radio station sent her to Aspen, where she snagged an interview with Dr. Albert Schweitzer, the 1952 Nobel Prize-winning physician, missionary, philosopher and musician.
“That was the highlight of her career with KREX,” Pickens said.
Her activism long preceded those days, however, her son John said.
He recently found her letter of resignation from the Daughters of the American Revolution citing the organization’s refusal to allow Marian Anderson, a famed Black opera singer, to sing a patriotic concert to an integrated audience at Constitution Hall.
“That was in 1939,” John Hay said. “In 1939, you didn’t do that.”
Anderson performed before the Lincoln Memorial that Easter instead, at the behest of President Franklin D. Roosevelt and his wife, Eleanor.
In Grand Junction, “Her love was the column in The Sentinel,” Pickens said, noting that Hay received comments on her work, generally favorable ones, from around the world.
Those columns, which ran from 1989 to 2011, are available on the web at www.davehay.com/henrietta/.
While Hay might have seen her radio show as more than domestic, she was certainly up to that part of life, Pickens said.
“She was quite a cook and a great seamstress,” Pickens said.
Hay was a 1934 graduate of the University of Colorado at Boulder and an athlete good enough to earn a letter as a Buff.
University policy at the time denied women varsity letters for their athletic accomplishments, so it wasn’t until the next millennium that she finally received her “C” and letter jacket in
recognition of her accomplishments on the tennis court.
She graduated from CU at 20, having skipped second and fourth grades, and did so with a Phi Beta Kappa key, John Hay said.
Grand Junction Mayor Duke Wortmann remembered chatting with Hay about her experience playing tennis for the Buffs and he commented that he was impressed with “just the mere fact that people like her stepped out like that. She got the biggest kick out of that.”
If she put down her racquet, she picked up a steering wheel and enjoyed driving sports cars, of which she owned several, including a Plymouth Barracuda and a Triumph Spitfire. She also rode a motorcycle into her 60s.
Her love affair with transportation began, Hay wrote in a 2014 column commemorating her centennial, with “ the Ford Model T convertible with a rumble seat. I think I packed 10 girls in it once in college. I did like convertibles.”
Her fascination with the ways of getting from here to there wasn’t limited to automobiles.
“When I was a kid, we traveled between Chicago and Denver by train,” she wrote. “Passengers were pulled by coal-fed engines, and the trip took 24 hours. In approximately 1936, the Denver Zephyr, drawn by the first American streamline diesel engine, took over. It had the engine and one passenger car. I had the seat by the window and didn’t sleep a lot that night because of my excitement, arriving in Denver at daylight,” Hay wrote.
Her grandfather, she recalled, was a doctor who “made house calls via horse and buggy. And in my time a man walked on the moon. (I wish it had been a woman.)”
Still, she avoided airplane travel until her son, Dave, got married in New York. She enrolled in ground school to deal with her fears.
Eventually she flew to Warsaw, Poland, but she didn’t make a habit of air travel, John said.
In addition to sons John and his wife, Rita Murphy, and David and Jolanta Hay, Hay is survived by her grandchildren, Ian Hay; Pamela Hay Sharp and her husband, Paul Sharp; Bob Hay and his wife, Lauren Feldman Hay; and four great-grandchildren.