Hannah Colton, interim news director, program host and award-wining reporter at radio station KUNM-FM, was being remembered by friends, colleagues and family as a talented professional who provided a voice for the disenfranchised, a great listener and storyteller, and a mentor to other women journalists.
Her partner, Keegan Kloer, described her as “radiant,” but also said “she had some big sadness and struggled with that.”
Colton, 29, died Nov. 10 from suicide, said her parents, Brad and Kathy Colton of Marion, Iowa.
“She was a bright star and excelled in everything she did, and she was very creative,” her mother said.
“She was especially passionate about helping people who were underprivileged and subordinated by society,” her father said. “She was passionate about telling the story of those people.”
Since arriving in Albuquerque four years ago, her daughter struggled with depression, Kathy Colton said. Hannah Colton got counseling and medication and “did very well,” but she was also working extremely long hours out of her home and felt isolated because of the pandemic, her mother said.
“We had no idea she was hiding so much despair,” she said. “It’s a great loss to the world.”
Colton’s KUNM colleague and friend, Marisa Demarco, said Colton was “fearless” in her coverage of a wide range of issues that included systemic racism, educational inequality, local politics, public health, and problems facing the homeless and the incarcerated, particularly during the pandemic.
“Among her many skill sets was a real love for audio,” Demarco said. “She was very good at collecting sounds, great at meeting and talking with people, asking really good questions and really listening to their answers.”
Colton was also “fearless and tenacious as a reporter, and had an enormous heart for the community that she was serving,” Demarco said. “She was strong and tough and cool – a total badass.”
In addition to their professional ties, Demarco said she and Colton shared a love of music and dancing.
Lissa Knudsen, news editor at the Daily Lobo, said Colton was “one of the most competent, kind and insightful people I’ve ever met.”
Knudsen worked with Colton when Knudsen was a graduate assistant at KUNM radio. “She was fantastically good at her job, whether it was the technology of getting all the radio equipment to work, or telling a story or maintaining her cool under pressure. Truly one of the best people I’ve ever known.”
Colton also served as a mentor and conducted Zoom meetings “to talk about women in journalism and provide support to one another,” Knudsen said.
Colton’s death was “sudden, shocking and indescribable,” said KUNM’s long-time general manager Richard Towne. “She was extremely competent in her work, very bright, articulate and focused. She was also loved by everyone in the newsroom,” as well as listeners and people throughout the community, he said.
The KUNM staff has had access to counseling services at the university and “was working its way through the grief and trauma” of Colton’s death, Towne said.
Kloer, Colton’s partner since February, said the two met via their connection to music. Kloer played guitar and sang, and Colton played a number of instruments including piano, guitar, ukulele, drums and violin. “She was also an incredible singer and had a beautiful voice,” he said.
Because of the pandemic and working out of the home, it was difficult for Colton to separate her private life from her work life, said Kloer, who is a seasonal farm worker. Colton was working 12 hours a day or more, sometimes seven days a week, he said.
“She was always thinking about how she could be of service to other people and what she could do to uplift those who were affected by racism and structural violence.”
Hannah Marie Colton graduated from Washington High School in her hometown of Cedar Rapids and then earned a bachelor’s degree in public policy from Duke University in North Carolina.
An outdoor enthusiast, Colton enjoyed camping, hiking, backpacking, biking and rock climbing. While at Duke she organized backpacking trips, and she worked as a staff member at Cottonwood Gulch Expeditions in New Mexico, helping teens and young adults foster a love for the outdoors.
She also loved to travel and for periods of time lived in India, Panama and Alaska, her parents said.
In addition to her parents, and her partner, Colton is survived by her brother, Tim, sister-in-law, Kirsten, niece, Anya, grandfather, Marlin Cook, and a number of aunts, uncles and cousins.
A memorial to Colton will be announced later.