Hail the Montana Heroes

A hero is someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself. —Joseph Campbell

It’s not easy to be a hero in southwest Montana. Unlike other places, where fame and fortune seem sufficient criteria, we hold our heroes to a higher standard. Perhaps it’s our rugged frontier history, rich as it is with the legends of Jim Bridger, John Colter, and Lewis & Clark, that makes modern endeavors seem inconsequential by comparison. Or maybe the bar is set unusually high by the hordes of bright, talented people who, discontented by the increasing sloth and materialism of modern society, migrate to Montana for a more dynamic and substantive existence. People of quality are not easily impressed.

Either way, only a truly extraordinary human can rise to the top and be revered around here. It takes a quiet, consummate professional; one who is not only skilled and dedicated, but who embodies our western ideals of fortitude, self-sufficiency, inner resolve, and respect for the natural world. Someone who strives valiantly and makes sacrifices both for himself and his community. Someone who simultaneously dazzles, enlightens, and inspires us. In short, someone like Bud Lilly.

I first met the renowned fly fisherman in 1998, when he agreed to meet me for lunch at Soby’s in downtown Bozeman. He happily drove over from Manhattan to spend a Saturday afternoon with some random MSU student fulfilling a writing assignment. What struck me as we talked, more than his easy smile and friendly demeanor, was the man’s humility. Here was one of the biggest celebrities in the world of fishing and conservation, a man who had achieved far more than I likely ever would, and he gave me the same respect and attention that he would the Pope. I had never encountered this level of modesty before, and I was blown away by it. That it could exist in someone so accomplished was almost too much to grasp.

Twelve years later, Bud hasn’t changed. At 84, he’s still fighting tirelessly for fish conservation and river access, along with a half-dozen other noble causes. He’s still a kind and gracious man who could disarm the devil himself. And he’ll still outfish you on your best day. See page 26 for Keith McCafferty’s excellent profile of this true Montana hero.

You’ll find plenty of other heroes in this issue, other ordinary people doing extraordinary things—and doing good for their community in the process. And each of them is a symbol of all the other, unnamed heroes who walk among us every day, humble and unassuming, not compelled to announce themselves or their actions, requiring no recognition, just doing what they do. People who help make southwest Montana the amazing and wonderful place that it is.

So this spring, while you’re out walking the woods, floating the rivers, and climbing the mountains, take a moment and pay tribute to all those Montana heroes—both known and unknown—who not only inspire us to get off the couch and get outdoors, but who work to ensure that the outdoors are there, pristine and accessible, for the rest of us to enjoy.