Ralph Routon

You would’ve thought we had endured enough in 2020, desensitized from the endless gut punches that have defined this year.

Now comes one more, losing one of Manitou Springs’ finest civic leaders of the past generation.

Mark Morland, who served 10 years (1997-2007) on Manitou’s City Council, the final 11 months as mayor before his career in public service was cut far short of its potential, passed away Dec. 8 at 58 after a long struggle against Huntington’s disease. 

He had been gone from the political scene for more than a decade, as the slow but irreversible wrath of that neurodegenerative disease robbed him in every way.

Morland was set up perfectly for major accomplishments in life. After graduating from Coronado High School in 1980, he was accepted to Harvard and studied government, graduating cum laude in 1984. He eventually would earn a master’s degree at the London School of Economics.

With such credentials, he could have gone anywhere. Instead he came back to Colorado and made two runs (1986 and 1988) for the Colorado Legislature. Alas, as a Democrat in El Paso County, he was ahead of his time and fell just short in both races.

But he never quit serving the world around him. He married Gazette photojournalist Mary Kelley in 1992, and they settled happily in Manitou as he taught history at Colorado Springs School.

Morland returned to the ballot in 1997, winning a race for an unfinished term on Manitou’s Council. He was re-elected twice, working with fellow councilors and Mayor Marcy Morrison to create a fresh blueprint for the city. Then, in early 2007, Morrison left to become Colorado’s insurance commissioner. Morland took over as mayor and never missed a beat.

“He was a very easy colleague to work with, and he had the ability to take another opinion about an issue and not be disagreeable with anyone,” Morrison says. “Mark was ready to run for mayor, or another government office.”

Yet, Morland was carrying a secret he couldn’t hide: symptoms of the awful disease inherited from his father, who died at 56. Mark, then 45, filed to run for a full term as mayor — until withdrawing weeks before the 2007 election.

He explained in a column for the Indy, refusing to portray himself as a victim. He was proud of contributing to Manitou’s progress, from sustainability (yes, back then) to downtown redevelopment, planning and historical preservation, plus various county-level efforts. Then he admitted Huntington’s was forcing him to leave public life, yet still called himself lucky.

“I wouldn’t trade a minute of the wonderful life I have with my wife and my daughter, and the time I have spent with my fellow citizens on issues that are important to our city,” Morland wrote. “It has been a privilege to represent the citizens of this wonderful community and work to make our city an enviable place to live.”

Marc Snyder, then a Manitou councilor before becoming mayor himself two years later and state representative now, recalled volunteering to be Morland’s mayoral campaign manager.

“We sat down at his kitchen table to talk about the campaign,” Snyder recalls, “and he said he just got the news about Huntington’s … and wouldn’t be able to make the run.”

Snyder knew Morland’s educator side, saying, “I learned from students of his that he was a great teacher and mentor. He really turned on their learning light.”

Snyder also absorbed lessons from Morland, calling him “a standout councilor with incredible compassion for those less fortunate.” 

In a conversation after leaving office, Morland talked about commuting by bus to Denver (he no longer could drive) and pursuing another degree. Long before almost everyone else, he knew mass transit to Denver would become more essential someday.

Morland attended Manitou community events as long as he could, but the illness took him away well before his battle ended. Still, that shouldn’t detract from the tributes he richly deserves. Nobody knows what heights he could have achieved in a long, healthy life.

“Mark was a brave gentleman,” Morrison says. “We lost him way too soon.”

“He was one of the most kind-hearted and genuine people I ever encountered,” Snyder says.

Mark Morland truly made a difference in his life. Anyone who cares about Manitou Springs should never forget that.