By Jimmy Orr
Executive Editor, Cowboy State Daily
Cowboy State Daily’s roster — the masthead — is woefully out of date.
Saturday morning, I emailed the members of our team who are not listed and asked them to send headshots and a brief bio.
I ended the email by saying “Jim Angell will remain on our masthead.”
Then I broke down.
Jim Angell was my co-pilot from January 6, 2019 to July 30, 2022.
When Annaliese Wiederspahn and I launched Cowboy State Daily, we had the equivalent of an NFL draft board. Jim was our first-round pick. We had to have him. He would be our foundation.
It wasn’t easy, but we got him. He had just retired. But we got him. Cowboy State Daily had a chance.
For most of Cowboy State Daily’s existence, Jim was the first person I spoke to every morning. His wife Mary laughed when I told her that.
“Me too,” Mary said. “But in a different way.”
True. Mine was a Zoom experience.
I rarely beat Jim to the call. During the 7 o’clock hour, I’d be putting the final touches on the morning newsletter by wrangling Don Day’s weather forecast and other last-minute additions. Once that was out, I’d grab another cup of coffee, take a 10-minute breather, and turn on Zoom.
There he was. “Morning, Cap’ain,” he would say like we were on some 18th-century pirate ship.
Jim looked the part of a pirate. He had the beard. He had the physique. And a parrot on his shoulder would have fit in well.
He had the disposition of a pirate too. He could be stern and he could blow his top. But he never sent anyone to walk the plank, even though we know who he wanted on that plank. If you didn’t support transparency and open meetings, you were of no use to Jim. He kept a list in his head of people who sought power over truth.
Jim could be a swashbuckler as well. Loved his Scotch and loved his cigars. Loved to laugh.
We just opened our new office. Walking distance from the Capitol, it’s a historic barn that used to stall the most famous horse in Wyoming history. You’ll see that horse everywhere — most notably on our license plates.
Once a stall for Steamboat, Charlie Irwin’s barn is now the home of Cowboy State Daily.
For the record, Sea Biscuit was stalled there too but that’s another story.
There’s a translucent garage door that we were thinking of bricking over. Jim shot that plan down with the force of a cannonball.
“Are you kidding me? That’s where I’m smoking my cigar and having my Scotch at the end of every workday,” Jim said, like we were out of our minds.
The garage door stayed. It looks great. But the office is really, really empty.
The place beamed on election night. Bill Sniffin came down from Lander. Leo Wolfson made the trip from Cody. Josh Wood drove from Saratoga, Mark Heinz made the summit trip from Laramie. Everyone’s favorite pal, Ellen Fike, was on hand. Rod Miller showed up in shorts and cowboy hat, holding a PBR.
And over every messaging platform possible, our team in the field was there. Wendy Corr, Clair McFarland, Jen Kocher, Cat Urbigkit, Coy Knobel, Dave Simpson.
It was festive. We felt like Jim was there. He was in the hospital only a few blocks away. But he was there.
He had already resigned because of his diagnosis. They gave him 12 – 18 months.
We were all devastated but we had hope. We’d see him. We’d talk to him. I thought for sure he’d get bored and offer up a few hours a day to help.
“Listen, I’m lucky,” he told me. “I get over a year to get my life together. To see the people I love. I’m even going to take one last trip to Ireland. Most of all, I get to see my daughter’s wedding in October. I’m lucky.”
Luck is damn fickle. It can turn. It can betray.
The cancer was too aggressive. He didn’t get 12- 18 months. He got days.
Jim’s dear friend Dave Lerner called me Wednesday morning to tell me they were taking Jim to hospice.
An hour later, Jim was gone.
Everything stopped. Even the hurtling current of news and chatter screeched to a halt. I was standing in the conference room, in the sunlight streaming through Jim’s garage door when the day turned dark.
In the darkest of days, however, light wins. We can’t beat death, but we can play a hell of a hand.
Knowing Jim’s time was limited, Mary and their daughter Mandy had moved quickly that week.
They couldn’t give Jim one last trip to Ireland, but they could give Jim his daughter’s wedding.
And they did it. In the hospital room on Monday. Every nurse, doctor, family member in that cramped hospital room cried. But those were triumphant tears.
Death could take Jim, but not before the man got to observe one last moment of truth – the crowning occasion to all the millions he’d documented, studied, and captured in his honest mind.
What a wonderful gift for Jim and Mandy and Mary – and for all of us who loved Jim, who get to have that story in our hearts.
That’s a pirate way of going out. Defiant til the end.
Our barn will also bear his name. Yes, it was Steamboat’s home and it was Sea Biscuit’s home.
But it’s Jim Angell’s home too.
So when everyone’s favorite pal, Ellen Fike, forcefully announced — like a cannonball — that we will christen the barn the “Jim Angell Media Center,” we all smiled through tears. And we’re doing it.
We love you, buddy.