Neil Westergaard, the acclaimed former editor of The Denver Post and the Denver Business Journal, died Sunday night after heart surgery complications and kidney failure. He was 67.
“Neil was a great man who loved his family, his friends and his community,” said his wife of 42 years, Cindy, in a message to his friends Monday morning. “He was happiest when he was stirring up the waters in Denver and Colorado politics. We’ve lost a great journalist.”
He also is survived by his children, Ben and Rachel.
The family plans to grieve privately now and hold an open memorial service this fall.
Westergaard retired from the Denver Business Journal last year and recently began contributing a column to Colorado Politics.
In April, he was joined — by surprise — by family when he was named the state press association’s Colorado Newspaperperson of the Year.
Colorado Politics Managing Editor Mark Harden, whom Westergaard hired at the Denver Business Journal and The Denver Post, presented the honor.
“Neil was a great friend and mentor for countless journalists who worshiped the man for making his newspapers better, as well as making them better as journalists and as people,” Harden said.
“He created newsrooms that were places where excellence was expected and appreciated, where people had fun working hard and covering the news. He relished the news, and he enjoyed talking about things that mattered with his readers and the community.
“The world of Colorado journalism is a better place because of Neil.”
Westergaard was born and raised in Chicago. He graduated from the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley with a degree in journalism and worked at the Colorado Springs Sun from 1976 to 1982, rising from political reporter to Capitol bureau chief before moving to The Denver Post in the same capacity when the Sun was closed.
He became executive editor of The Post, where he created the paper’s first website and grew its daily and Sunday circulation, surpassing that of the now defunct Rocky Mountain News.
“Neil was an editor with a heart,” said Vince Bzdek, a former Denver Post colleague who now is editor of The Gazette in Colorado Springs and editor at large of Colorado Politics.
“Even with the tough decisions, I remember his warmth and humanity shining through. I once asked him what his single most important piece of advice for a newspaper manager was, and he said, ‘Take care of your people.’”
After leaving The Post in 1996, Westergaard worked in communications for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Colorado for 2½ years before becoming editor of the Business Journal, where he served 14 years.
He was named to the Denver Press Club Hall of Fame in 2010 and last year was presented a lifetime achievement award by the Society of Professional Journalists.
He was honored as an outstanding alumnus by UNC in 1995 and is a former member of the school’s Board of Trustees.