Longtime Missoula playwright, performer, poet, journalist and community advocate McCarthy Coyle, 67, passed away at Community Medical Center Sunday, Nov. 26. You may not have heard the news—a single line appeared in the Missoulian the following Wednesday—but in a sense that sort of deflected attention defined Coyle’s wide-ranging impact on the community.
“He wasn’t one of those people who published a big book and got famous,” says Shaun Gant, a local playwright who knew Coyle for more than 20 years and named him her son’s godfather. “But he built a huge web. He was a hub.”
After working as a newsman in both New York and Florida, Coyle moved to Missoula in the early 1970s and helped to start the Borrowed Times, then the state’s only independent weekly newspaper. In 1991 he became the first copy editor of the Missoula Independent, a position he held for the paper’s first two years of publication. “To say he was just a copy editor doesn’t do it justice,” says then-editor Eric Johnson, now editor of the Monterey County Weekly in California. “He was our mentor.”
In the 1980s Coyle spearheaded Montana Quality Television (MQTV), which worked to improve statewide programming and secured Missoula’s cable franchise agreement, essentially creating Missoula Community Access Television (MCAT) in 1989. He never held a formal position with MCAT, but was a fixture of its programming for 15 years; station General Manager Joel Baird is organizing a retrospective—including his Coyle’s “Under the Copper Dome” state government series—for broadcast in mid-January.
Along the way, Coyle, an accomplished playwright—his Drawing Down the Moon was staged at the prestigious Eugene O’Neill Playwright’s Conference in 1987—became an integral part of the local theater scene. He was best known for his work with Craig Menteer’s Follicular Cabaret shows, holiday performances of Dylan Thomas’ “A Child’s Christmas in Wales” and autobiographical monologues. His most recent work was a manuscript in progress titled “Sex in 50 States.”
“Every project he did was altruistic,” says Gant. “It was never about creating a career or personal gain, but always about adding to the community in some way.”
Memorial services are being planned for January.