November 11, 2013 Updated: November 11, 2013 at 12:31 pm
COMMERCE CITY — Former Associated Press Colorado Capitol reporter Carl Hilliard, who was known for his wit and a weekly newspaper column that chronicled the warts, the heroes and the history of Colorado and its leaders, died Sunday of a heart attack. He was 76.
His son, Bronson, said his father often reported on the foibles of government leaders, but also didn't hesitate to praise them when he believed they did something right.
Bronson Hilliard said his father was not happy with the polarization of politics in recent years, believing very few politicians disappointed the people they represented before he retired and gridlock became the norm. He said his father wanted to show people how government worked.
In his last column, he wrote "there has always been something heroic or tragic or outrageous about the political winners or losers, or those who gave their state more than they got in return."
He also told lawmakers not to take themselves too seriously, and enjoyed playing pranks to bring humor to what was often a very serious process.
On one occasion, Hilliard tied a rope to a rubber chicken and banged it against the window of the Colorado House of Representatives to liven things up. He also wrote nasty letters on fake letterhead to lawmakers, ending with a paragraph to let them know it was a joke.
"Try to have a little fun once in a while. It's a tough thing to do, especially if you write about government," he advised his colleagues in his last column before stepping down. Lawmakers put a brass plate at his regular seat the press table after he retired.
Former Denver Post Capitol bureau chief Fred Brown said Monday that Hilliard often came up with his own metaphors, including his description of one lawmaker who was totally lost on a piece of legislation resembling "a duck looking at thunder."
"He had this homespun wit. He put things in context. He personalized the process. He left a hole that can't be filled," Brown said Monday.
Hilliard was born Oct. 25, 1937, in the mining and oil town of Gebo, Wyo., near Thermopolis in the center of the state.
He began working for the Montana Missoulian and worked on the base newspaper while stationed in the Army at the Fitzsimons Army Medical Center from 1960 to 1962. Hilliard joined the AP in November 1964 and worked in its bureau in Cheyenne, Wyo.
He was assigned to cover politics and state government for the AP in Denver in 1967 and retired in 1999.
He is survived by his wife, Lana, two sons, Bronson and Brendan, and three grandchildren.
A memorial service will be held, with a time and date to be determined.