On Tuesday afternoon, iconic Denver Democrat Paul Sandoval died of pancreatic cancer, about 14 months after his doctors told him he had six months to live. That he fought this almost unbeatable disease for so long surprised no one. As Patrick Doyle learned last year while reporting The Tamale Maker of Tejon Street, an oral history of Sandoval’s life, this longtime social and political activist was a world-class scrapper from the beginning.

Oral histories are fun to read because they’re an almost literal account of lives and events as remembered by the people who were there. They’re relatively easy to write because you just have to transcribe people’s memories and impressions and arrange them into a compelling narrative. They are not, however, easy to report, because to make an oral history ring true you must speak to as many folks as possible, and Paul Sandoval knew everyone. Doyle tapped into this bottomless well of sources—so thoroughly, in fact, that the Society of Professional Journalists recently honored him with an award for political reporting—and what he found in Sandoval was a man whose words, actions, political instincts, and upbeat attitude were every bit as impressive as his reputation.

The Tamale Maker of Tejon Street is a civics 101 lesson about how tireless achievement and political savvy can transform an entire community. Every city in America probably has a Paul Sandoval; Denver has been blessed to know the Paul Sandoval.

—Image courtesy of Morgan Smith, mid-1970s