Armando Montaño, Former Chronicle Intern, Dies at 22

July 02, 2012

Armando Montaño, an exuberant and irrepressible former Chronicle intern who graduated in May from Grinnell College, was found dead early Saturday in Mexico City, where he was working as an intern for the Associated Press. The AP said local authorities were investigating the circumstances of his death.

Mr. Montaño, who was 22, was the son of Diane Alters, a staff member in the communications office at Colorado College, and Mario Montaño, an associate professor of anthropology there.

Known to everyone as Mando, Mr. Montaño came to The Chronicle in May 2011 as an intern contributing to coverage of college finance. His energy, tenacity, and cheerfulness impressed his colleagues almost immediately. "The kid was a fountain of ideas," said Brad Wolverton, who was Mr. Montaño's editor. "Every day he would come to me with at least two or three ideas. He wanted to get out and write and see things. And he had a knack for capturing the human drama in a story."

Mr. Montaño had not been a member of the staff for a full week before he tacked up a list of goals for the summer on a wall of his cubicle. Mr. Wolverton was so impressed that at his next staff meeting he asked Mr. Montaño to read the list aloud, which he did while grinning broadly. Mr. Wolverton then asked the other writers in the meeting to list their own goals—none of them as ambitious as Mr. Montaño's.

The intern intended, he told colleagues, to write for either the Los Angeles Times or The New York Times—and, in fact, he helped cover the Iowa caucuses for the latter paper last fall.

"He didn't let anything stop him," said Andrea Fuller, who worked with Mr. Montaño on several Chronicle projects. "I really think he'd have been my boss someday."

In Mexico City, Mr. Montaño had written about Justin Bieber fans, baby elephants, and an airport shootout among police officers that was believed to be drug-related. He expected to enroll in a master's-degree program in journalism this fall at the University of Barcelona.

Among his Chronicle accomplishments were hard-news articles, such as "States Move to Limit Spending on For-Profit Colleges While Tightening Oversight," and features, like "Same Song, Different Stadium" and "Help Goshen College Pick a Pregame Song, or Something ... ." He also contributed to a number of larger projects, such as a look at the education levels of state legislators.

"He was driven but completely unpretentious and unselfconscious," said Molly Redden, who was an intern at the same time as Mr. Montaño and is now an assistant editor at The New Republic. He was a "totally delightful and carefree friend" who took advantage of his summer in Washington to explore every corner of the city.

As a Chronicle intern, Mr. Montaño received a variety of assignments, which he kept his friends informed of on his Facebook page. "Hearing on Capitol Hill with Sen. Harkin!" he wrote on June 7, 2011, above a link to a video of David Bowie singing "Young Americans" on The Dick Cavett Show in 1974. "I'm putting on my C-Hill Outfit and listening to this."

Later that summer, he told friends that if a journalism career didn't work out, he would consider opening either a burger joint called the "Burger Court"—"I would name all the burgers and specials after famous rulings, and the to-go bag would look like a really cute paper briefcase"—or "a family-friendly Budokon/Pilates/yoga/Zumba studio in downtown Detroit."

Mr. Montaño was also the only Chronicle intern ever chosen as a "Coverboy" by Washington's Metro Weekly, a local gay magazine. The distinction delighted him, though he took care not to say anything in the accompanying interview that would embarrass current or future employers. A highlight came when he revealed that on his nightstand he had—along with "a trashy Virginia Woolf novel and a cheeseburger"—a framed photograph of Helen Thomas, iconic former dean of the White House press corps.

Mr. Montaño's unforgettable cheerfulness made him popular around The Chronicle's offices. Anne St. Vil, the payroll manager, said, "He greeted me with a big smile that first day of orientation, and I saw it every day after when I crossed his path."

Kelly Field, a senior reporter who covers the federal government, said, "He was undoubtedly the most upbeat, ebullient intern we've had."

The Chronicle extends its sympathy to Mr. Montaño's family and his many friends.