Betsy Cohen would probably laugh out loud that a story about her death would also include the name of Ted Kaczynski, one of the most hunted criminals in U.S. history, in the lead.
Cohen was a student-intern at the Missoulian in 1996 when the news broke that Kaczynski, aka the Unabomber, had been captured 80 miles east of Missoula.
Veteran Missoulian photographer Michael Gallacher wasted little time grabbing his gear and heading to Lincoln, where it would turn out Kaczynski had been hiding for a quarter of a century.
The intern from the University of Montana on that April day was the only available reporter in the newsroom at the moment, so Gallacher grabbed Cohen, too, on his way out the door.
One of the biggest national stories of the year was a million miles from your typical student-internship assignment, but as Gallacher worked his camera — one of the pictures he took of Kaczynski would wind up on the cover of Time magazine — Cohen dove into her end of the story like a pro.
Cohen did her job until, almost literally, the last day she was able to. Her final byline in Lee papers before she left on a vacation to visit family, was on Jan. 8 — some three years after she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
Cohen, who worked at the Montana Standard for two years, died of cancer last Monday night. She was 49 years old.
The cancer diagnosis “hit like a bolt of lightning,” Cohen’s friend, former Missoulian opinion page editor Steve Woodruff, wrote in an email to editors and reporters at the paper on Thursday.
“Betsy fought the cancer valiantly and with determination, as you know, but none of the best-case scenarios of treatment ever materialized. Yet she continued her work at the paper, including many, many days when she felt sick and scared.”
I asked several times about her commitment to work and once gently suggested that, if her days might be numbered, perhaps she’d rather spend them in other ways.”
The excitement of chasing the Kaczynski story together started the bond between two people passionate about their work, but the relationship grew beyond the job.
When Cohen’s internship at the Missoulian was up and she got her first full-time reporting job, at the Montana Standard, the couple made the long-distance thing work for two years.
A year after Cohen returned to the Missoulian in 1998, she and Gallacher bought a house together. It was a major commitment for Gallacher, who had always considered a home mortgage a ball and chain, but one he happily made.
“There were a lot of those,” he said. “I never wanted a dog, either, but Betsy told me, ‘I love you but I love animals too. If I had a choice, I’d have both.’ I saw the writing on the wall: It’s either you or a dog. So, we got a dog, and lived happily ever after.”
Delphi, a golden retriever, is 12 now and Millie, a Pembroke Welsh corgi, joined the family two years ago. Cohen’s horse, Impressive Jewel, lives in the Bitterroot Valley and “embodies so much about who she was,” Gallacher says.
“You know, Betsy and I had both been in relationships before where things didn’t work out,” Gallacher goes on. “Given one more opportunity to do it right, we both decided to work harder at it, and out of that came the bond and the love. We were together a lot – we worked together, we lived together, we played together – and yet we seldom fought.”
There was one other reason they didn’t often argue, Gallacher admits.
“Because usually, Betsy was right,” he says.