MISSOULA — Helen “Gus” Guthrie Atwood, 79, died Sept. 25, 2018, at BeeHive Homes in Missoula after a long illness. Gus was a force of nature who left an impression on everyone who met her. She counted herself lucky, and was known to say her dreams were so hilarious that she woke up laughing. When her time came, she was ready.
Born June 17, 1939, in Great Falls to Harriet Larson and A.B. Guthrie Jr., Gus attended grade school in Lexington, Kentucky, and summered at her parents’ cabin outside Choteau. She attended Great Falls High School for two years, then studied at Abbot (Phillips) Academy in Andover, Massachusetts, for her junior year.
In 1956, Gus was admitted to the University of Montana in Missoula, where she majored in English and was a member of the Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority. After graduation, she earned a scholarship from Viking Press to attend New York University, where she earned a master’s degree in book publishing. While living in New York City, she worked at Viking Press reading and editing manuscripts.
In 1962, her abilities in sales drew her to San Francisco, where she worked as the publicity director at the Mark Hopkins Hotel. In 1963, she married J. Daniel Kemphaus and moved to Los Angeles, where she worked buying and selling time on radio and TV as media director of various advertising businesses.
In 1967, having divorced Kemphaus, Gus married jazz musician and composer Hub Atwood in Memphis, Tennessee. Their daughter, Eden, was born in 1969. Gus continued to work in media-related jobs in Memphis.
In 1974, she moved with her daughter back to Great Falls and worked for Wendt Advertising and, later, KFBB TV. After her marriage to Hub ended, she married Richard R. “Shag” Miller in 1979 and moved to Butte.
Gus cared fiercely about the arts and volunteered with many nonprofits, working with the Montana Arts Council, the Montana Repertory Theatre, the Museum of the Rockies, the YMCA and the Butte High School Theater. With the help of Bob Poore and others, Gus restored the old Fox Theatre, now the Mother Lode Theatre, in Butte. Gus was one of six recipients in 2001 of the Governor’s Humanities Award.
In 2009, Gus moved back to Choteau to pursue her hobbies of cooking, music and reading.
Gus loved dogs, dachshunds most of all. And she loved words. She was a stickler for grammar, and easily one of the best-read people her friends were ever likely to meet. Gus was also renowned for her humor, and agreed with those who felt that she was the funniest person they knew. Her jokes were legendary both for their bawdiness and for the time it took her to get past her own laughter to the punchline. She played the ukulele and had a song for every occasion.
Gus was a card-carrying Democrat and atheist. She loved her family and her friends, but she did not suffer fools. She could and would and did drink most people under the table. Gus was equal parts Mae West, Calamity Jane and Dorothy Parker. She will be dearly missed.
Gus is preceded in death by her parents. She is survived by her brother, Bert Guthrie of Choteau, and her daughter, Eden Guthrie Atwood, and grandson, Benjamin Hubbard Atwood Anderson, of Missoula.
At her request, there will be no service. In lieu of flowers, hoist one for Gus and tell a dirty joke. The family requests that memorial donations may be made to the Mother Lode Theatre in Butte.