Dennis Gallagher, a longtime Democratic political figure from northwest Denver who authored the Gallagher Amendment and who was a proud champion of his Irish heritage, died Friday night at his home. Gallagher was 82.
A Denver native, Gallagher was known as a kind-hearted and persuasive man whose longtime involvement in politics, his local community, Colorado’s Irish community and the Catholic Church established an impressive legacy.
“Dennis was a large presence in Denver. For decades, his public service was reflected every day — not just for his beloved north side — but for the benefit of our entire city,” said Mayor Michael Hancock, in a statement. “He possessed a sharp wit that was quick with an Irish phrase in any situation. While we may have disagreed on many issues, I never doubted that he loved our city. We’ve lost a storied Denver public servant. Rest in peace, my friend.”
Gallagher earned a bachelor’s degree from Regis University in 1961, and a master’s degree from The Catholic University of America in 1967. An orator, he taught speech, persuasion and media for more than four decades.
Damian Strohmeyer, The Denver Post
Democratic Sen. Dennis Gallagher addresses the Democratic caucus after his appointment as Senate Minority Party whip in November 1984.
Elected to the state House of Representatives in 1970, he served two terms and moved to the state Senate, where he served for 20 years. In 1982 he sponsored the “Gallagher Amendment” to the state constitution. The amendment, which set guidelines and limits on property taxes, was repealed by voters in 2020.
“There they go again. Corporate special interests are trying to fund an additional tax break on the backs of homeowners and renters,” Gallagher, who was known for speaking his mind, wrote in a Denver Post commentary just before the repeal. “Their latest ploy is the repeal of the Gallagher Amendment.”
Gallagher was elected to the City Council in 1995, representing District 1 in northwest Denver and serving two terms. He was elected Denver auditor in 2003. He served as auditor until 2014.
Amanda Sandoval, the current councilwoman for the district, described Gallagher as a “true legend” who will be “greatly missed.”
Dennis Gallagher will be deeply missed in our community. His knowledge and love for Denver inspired me my entire life. He was a true legend and will be greatly missed. Rest In peace Dennis and say hi to my dad, I know the two of you will have lots of catch up on. pic.twitter.com/Q6qkxCCOaJ
— Amanda P. Sandoval (@sandovalcd1) April 23, 2022
“The passing of Dennis Gallagher is such sad news for our community,” Sandoval said. “He was a friend, a mentor, and was so knowledgeable. He will be greatly missed in Northwest Denver. Rest In Peace, Dennis.”
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In 2003, Gallagher was outspent by an opponent in the auditor’s race by 2-1 ratio.
“We didn’t spend a lot, but we spent wisely,” Gallagher told a cheering crowd at Luna’s, a restaurant on West 38th Avenue, at that time. “Isn’t that what an auditor is supposed to do?”
A proud Irishman, Gallagher was well-known for throwing annual St. Patrick’s Day gatherings and celebrations, featuring musicians and step dancers.
“He had a personal connection with the Irish of Colorado,” said Anne Hall, director of the McTeggart Irish Dancers.
Hall met Gallagher in 1995, when his daughter Meaghan danced with the school. She died in December 2000 at age 19. Meaghan was buried in her traditional Celtic dance costume.
“I was always struck by the strength of Dennis, because he adored Meaghan so much, and he had that amazing strength to carry him through even though he was completely heartbroken,” Hall said.
Susan Biddle, The Denver Post
Sens. Dennis Gallagher, left, and Ron Stewart discuss the issue of recording votes at caucus meetings so senators and representatives will be held account able.
Over the years, Hall typically would see Gallagher at the St. Patrick’s celebrations he hosted.
“He was always so giving of himself as a person and as a public servant,” Hall said. “He would give you the shirt off of his back.”
In 2015, a 67-minute documentary titled “Gallagher: One of Kind” was released and screened in Denver. Numerous videos with Gallagher, mostly around political discourse, are posted on YouTube.
On Saturday the Gallagher family released the following statement:
“It is with heavy hearts and profound grief that we regret to inform you that Dennis Gallagher passed from this life on Friday evening. Dennis passed peacefully in his sleep. As a larger than life presence, not only in our family but in the greater Denver community, the depth of our loss cannot be fully expressed. As arrangements are finalized, we will keep everyone informed.”
Danny Gallagher, Dennis’ son, described his father as a Renaissance man who was dedicated to his family.
“He was a great father; he was supportive of me and Meaghan,” Danny Gallagher said. “He taught me a lot about unconditional love. He taught me a lot about being supportive and loyal.”
Gallagher found his greater goal in the Athenian Oath, which says “leave the city better than when you found it,” Danny said.
“He led by example,” Danny said. “He really had a vocation.”