Political consultant Katy Atkinson, who started out working for Republicans and eventually handled high-profile nonpartisan ballot measures, died today.
Atkinson was a sought-after spokesperson by reporters because she knew Colorado politics and she quickly returned phone calls.
“Katy Atkinson was smart and witty and just a delight to be around,” said Dick Wadhams, the former chairman of the Colorado Republican Party and a veteran political consultant. “That’s what made her just a great person to work with in politics. In the most intense situation, she could laugh.”
Atkinson was a Colorado native who attended Wheat Ridge High School and Colorado College, where she graduated in 1978 — the same year she got her start in politics.
“She accomplished quite a bit but her son Randy was her greatest achievement,” said lobbyist Mike Beasley, who visited Atkinson Wednesday in hospice.
Atkinson was diagnosed with brain cancer. She was 59.
She worked for the late House Speaker Bev Bledsoe from 1979 to 1981, and worked on Hank Brown’s successful U.S. Senate campaign in 1990. She formed Katy Atkinson and Associates the following year. She handled Scott McInnis’ congressional campaign in 1992 and two years later managed Bruce Benson’s campaign for governor. in 1998, she worked on Ben Nighthorse Campbell’s campaign for the U.S. Senate and Tom Tancredo’s congressional campaign.
In 2004, Atkinson worked for the No on 36 campaign (Coloradans Against a Really Stupid Idea) dealing with electoral votes and in 2005 she was the communications director for the high-profile Vote Yes on C&D campaign that was supported by a coalition of Democrats and Republicans, including then Speaker Andrew Romanoff and then Gov. Bill Owens.
Because of those roles, Atkinson was a guest on Colorado Inside Out, a leading program looking at the week’s big events.
Owens today called Atkinson “one of the best.”
“She was a model of how to successfully message on behalf of her causes,” he said. “She helped shape the message and devise the tactics and the strategy to make it work.”
Former Denver Post reporter Mark Couch covered the Refs C & D campaign.
“This make me so sad,” Couch said. “I loved talking with Katy. She was smart and funny and gave me no-nonsense answers to my questions and her insights were almost always spot-on. She will be missed.”
Democrat Joan Fitz-Gerald was the state Senate president when the legislature put Ref C and D on the ballot. “Katy was always personable and although usually on the other side on issues she was never disagreeable and always kept an open line of communication. Political discourse in Colorado will be poorer without her,” Fitz-Gerald said.
Mary Alice Mandarich served as Fitz-Gerald’s chief of staff and now is a lobbyist. She called Atkinson “one-of-a-kind who gave all of herself to causes she worked on. Her ear was always there to listen. She will be missed.”
More recently, Atkinson was the spokeswoman for the family of Claire Davis, who was shot and killed at Arapahoe High School in 2013.
“We are deeply saddened by Katy’s passing,” Claire’s parents, Michael and Desiree Davis, said today in a statement. “She was a dear friend to us, as she was to many others. She stood alongside us during the most challenging period in our lives, and gracefully acted as our voice when it was difficult or impossible to speak.
” Without Katy’s wisdom, humility, sense of humor and aplomb, we would not have been able to conduct the celebration of Claire’s life at the National Western Complex on Jan. 1, 2014. She was also instrumental in making Colorado schools safer for our children through the passage of the Claire Davis School Safety Act earlier this year. Our thoughts and prayers go out to her family. She will be sorely missed by all of us who loved her.”
Former House Majority Leader Alice Madden, a Democrat who now lives in Louisville, said she and Atkinson didn’t agree on all matters, “but she was a fierce and strategic advocate for her clients, a consummate professional. My heart goes out to her family and community of colleagues.”
Atkinson eventually moved from Littleton to downtown Denver, which was perfect someone who was such a huge fan of the theater. She was a member of the Director’s Society for the Denver Center for the Performing Arts. She also loved to hike and was involved with the Colorado Mountain Club.
In addition to her son Randy, 31, Atkinson is survived by her sister, Barbara Baldrey of Gypsum, and her brother, Fla Lewis in Rhode Island.
Among those saddened and stunned at Atkinson’s death was Maria Garcia Berry, who now is a Denver lobbyist. They met at the state Capitol when Atkinson was a new staffer for the House and Garcia Berry worked for Democratic Gov. Dick Lamm.
“At first she thought I was the devil incarnate given who I worked for but quickly her wit and our mutual complaining about our respective bosses created a bond,” Berry said. “Katy was one of the most gifted and talented communicators that I have ever met; pair that talent with her ability to manage challenging and robust personalities made her one of the best political consultants in the state. She will sorely missed.”
Benson, who now is president of the University of Colorado, said he called Atkinson when he learned she had cancer.
“She was a great political operator and very, very, very smart,” he said. “This is a great loss to Colorado.”