Jim Calaway remembered for legacy of giving back
Jim Calaway, whose name is associated with Glenwood Springs-area institutions from Colorado Mountain College to the Calaway Young Cancer Center at Valley View Hospital due to his gracious financial contributions and support over the years, has died.
Calaway, who resided in Carbondale with his wife, Connie, passed away Wednesday at his home with Connie at his side. He was 87. A full obituary is pending, and a celebration of his life is being planned for January.
A retired oilman from Texas, Calaway relocated to the Roaring Fork Valley in the 1990s and, along with Connie, immediately began giving to the many institutions whose missions they supported. Most of that effort centered around education, the arts, animals and health care.
Calaway’s name graces the main academic building at CMC’s residential campus at Spring Valley, and he was the primary funder and co-founder of the Colorado Animal Rescue animal shelter that is situated across from the Spring Valley campus and works in conjunction with the college’s vet-tech program.
When Valley View Hospital wanted to build a state-of-the-art cancer center, Calaway was there along with Alpine Bank founder Bob Young to help make it happen. Together, the Calaways and Young gave $4 million toward that $26 million project.
“Jim Calaway inspired so many with his passionate commitment to our community,” Valley View CEO Gary Brewer said in a statement. “Our patients, staff and providers experience that generosity at the Calaway Young Cancer Center every day. We will miss having Jim in our cafe for lunch, his kind words to staff and patients and his undeterred spirit to continue to support the care of our patients.”
Calaway also was the principle donor for the Thunder River Theatre in Carbondale and has a room named after him in Carbondale’s Third Street Center, which he also help to fund.
He was a major contributor to the Aspen Institute, serving on that organization’s executive committee. He also donated generously to the Garfield County Libraries over the years. The Calaways have belonged to the Two Rivers Unitarian Universalist congregation of Carbondale for many years, and they gave generously on a broader scale to the KIPP Foundation.
“At 85, I’m still an incurable entrepreneur,” Calaway said during a 2016 talk at the inaugural GlenX Summit in Glenwood Springs, where he told the story of his business successes, and related how giving back to the community is what makes him happiest.
“Live life modestly and give to the common good, be creative and be kind. That’s the way to live,” he said.
At CMC, the Calaways have impacted the lives of more than 100 students who have received the Calaway Scholarship, according to a memorial statement sent by the college Wednesday evening.
The Calaways have served on the CMC Foundation Board, and Jim founded and has been chairman emeritus of the CMC Board of Overseers, a volunteer advisory board. He was also instrumental in formation of the college’s Isaacson School for New Media.
“It will be hard to imagine a world without Jim Calaway in it,” CMC President and CEO Carrie Besnette Hauser said in the statement. “Jim was such a force for generosity. He not only gave constantly of himself, he nudged and encouraged many other leaders within our community to live a philanthropic life.
“My heart goes out to his wife, Connie, to his sons and their families, and to the many friends he’s made over the years. He will be deeply missed.”
Another contributor to CMC over the years, Walter Issacson, had this to say: “They just don’t make people any better than Jim. He was not only a good person, he made everyone around him into a better person. You couldn’t help but want to be more like him.”
In an article that Isaacson and Hauser wrote for Philanthropy magazine in 2015, they noted that the sharecropper’s son fashioned himself into an oil tycoon, and then into a philanthropist for everyone. “At about the age of 40, the trappings of success – fancy penthouses, private planes, sailboats, fast cars – lost their appeal to him,” according to the article. “He realized that the more he gave away, the happier he was.”
As the magazine profile said, “A lifetime member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Calaway also founded and served on the executive committee of Houston’s chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union and as treasurer of its national parent organization.
“Having chaired the 1988 Presidential and Democratic Party Victory Fund, his support of the party resulted in two presidential appointments and firmly rooted him as a lifelong, self-described ‘blue collar yellow dog Democrat.’”
In the early 1970s, Calaway was introduced to the Aspen Institute by former U.S. Senator Mike Gravel. “His fascination with the institute brought him to Aspen, where he met and married Connie Hill, a classical singer who had studied at the Aspen Music Festival and School,” CMC noted in its statement.
Calaway went on to join the board of the Aspen Institute and founded the institute’s Lifetime Trustees group.
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