Sue O’Brien was a role model and mentor for aspiring woman journalists in many areas: as a radio anchor, television news director, and editorial page editor. She moved easily from politics to academia to daily newspapers. Her weekly Denver Post columns were touchstones of Colorado politics and life in general.
From her days as an honors student at Grinnell College, where she edited the student newspaper, O’Brien displayed an intense work ethic. As a budding activist in the late 1960s, her first significant radio reporting was for a Denver station from the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. By the 1970s, O’Brien was a leader in Denver radio and television news reporting.
O’Brien led women in her profession by example. She was the first female television news director in Denver. In the 1980s, O’Brien was the highest-ranking female voice for two governors: she was Governor Richard Lamm’s press secretary and Governor Roy Romer’s campaign manager.
At the same time, O’Brien earned a master’s degree in public administration from the Kennedy School at Harvard University. She accepted a professorship in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Colorado at Boulder, also serving as associate dean and directing the master’s program. Most remarkably, she was one of the first to achieve tenure without either a Ph.D. or a tenure-track position.
Yet O’Brien left her tenured position to become the first woman editor of The Denver Post’s editorial page. Popular also as a televised panelist in “Colorado Inside Out” weekly public affairs discussions, she continued to teach as an adjunct. As a baseball fan, O’Brien even served on the Colorado Baseball Commission, campaigning for a new stadium.
O’Brien was the quintessential woman in a man’s world. She was known for salty language, a raspy voice, and working late hours to produce quality journalism, carefully crafted for fairness. O’Brien’s heroic efforts to conduct her roles as wife, mother, journalist, mentor, and educator inspired other women trying to “have it all,” while she also served as the authoritative voice in Colorado politics.