Roaring Fork Valley community pays respects to Jim Calaway’s legacy |

Roaring Fork Valley community pays respects to Jim Calaway’s legacy

Jesse Monsalve didn’t know Jim Calaway when he came with his family from Colombia to start a new life in Glenwood Springs, but it was a special gift from Calaway that taught him a life lesson.

“The No. 1 gift that has been given to me was the sense of community,” Monsalve said during a Saturday celebration of life for the late philanthropist at The Orchard in Carbondale — the adopted hometown for the retired Texas oilman who gave extensively to organizations up and down the Roaring Fork Valley.

Calaway died Dec. 12 at the age of 87 at his home at River Valley Ranch. He left a legacy of giving both near and far to organizations with missions as diverse as Colorado Animal Rescue (CARE) and the American Civil Liberties Union.

Monsalve spoke of learning a new language, graduating high school and earning a Calaway Foundation scholarship to attend Colorado Mountain College.

He’s now preparing to head off to New York City to start a career, after earning degrees in theater, business and digital media. It wouldn’t have been possible without that scholarship from the Jim and Connie Calaway Foundation, he said.

“Since the moment I came here from Colombia, I wanted the ability to give myself the power to stop reacting, and to start carrying out what my intentions for life were,” Monsalve said. “Jim Calaway gave me that.”

Rather than hearing from just the heads of organizations Calaway gave so generously to, the more than 300 people gathered to pay respects also heard from many of the direct recipients of that generosity.

Like Assaf Dory, a former sheriff’s deputy in Florida who lost his leg in the line of duty and ultimately his livelihood. His family was able to put their life back together in the Roaring Fork Valley, thanks in part to a home from Habitat for Humanity.

Calaway was a major supporter of Habitat, among other organizations ranging from CMC, CARE and the Aspen Institute to Valley View Hospital, the Garfield County Libraries and Carbondale’s Third Street Center and Thunder River Theatre Co.

Dory related that his 8-year-old daughter commented to him one day, “You know, Dad, we’re so lucky to have a home here, and so blessed to live here.”

Just being able to instill such understanding at a young age is gift enough, Dory said.

“Thank you for the generosity, and thank you for impacting our lives and this valley,” he said during his tribute to Calaway.

for the love of the ‘critters’

Angela Mills spoke on behalf of the organization that most agreed was nearest and dearest to Calaway’s heart — CARE, the animal rescue organization based in Spring Valley that has saved the lives of thousands of abandoned pets.

For Mills, CARE helped her build a new family. After her dog Buddy died, she said her father texted a simple condolence: “Hope you find some sunshine through your clouds today.”

That night she was searching the CARE website and found a dog named “Sunshine” who needed a home.

“She was meant to be ours,” Mills said of that dog, who now goes by the name Phoebe. She and her husband also soon adopted two teenage daughters and added another CARE dog to the family, Millie.

“Our dogs, thanks to Jim and the way that he lived his life, have taught us to find sunshine in our storm, to believe in ourselves, and to never, ever stop loving,” Mills said. “Jim’s love and care helped make us a family.”

Calaway’s son, James, gave the eulogy, and spoke to his father’s affection for “the critters,” as the elder Calaway often referred to them.

“This was really who he was, and it was where he was able to have an expression of unconditional love,” James Calaway said. “With the critters, he found his heart.”

And, it was the “smaller organizations with heart” where Jim Calaway chose to focus his philanthropic support, his son said.

In doing so, it was a rallying cry for the community, “using his resources to get the whole community to do the same, and help elevate these small organizations with heart.”

His son also spoke about his father’s humble roots in rural Texas, the son of fourth-generation tenant farmers, before heading off to Houston at age 14 to attend a boarding school.

After graduating from the University of Texas, where he started off as a music major, he began a career in the oil industry, making it big in a tough business.

But by age 50, his father began wondering whether all the fancy things that came with a life of privilege was worth it. So, he started thinking about ways to share.

That “deep reflection” led him to Aspen where he met his second wife, Connie. Together, they made a more modest life in Carbondale, and built a legacy of giving that lives on in the names of numerous institutions, including the Calaway Young Cancer Center at Valley View Hospital, the Calaway Academic Building at CMC-Spring Valley, and the Calaway Rooms in the Carbondale Library and Third Street Center.

much wider reach

A testament to Calaway’s broader influence, tribute letters were read during the memorial service from former President Jimmy Carter and wife Rosalyn, who were close friends to the Calaways.

Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, another close friend who, along with the Carters, was invited by Calaway to speak in Carbondale in recent years, also was featured in a video tribute to Calaway.

Albright wore one of her trademark brooches for the interview — an angel.

“Jim was an angel on Earth, and now he’s with the angels,” Albright said. “There was a no more gracious individual than Jim.”

Ira Glasser, former executive director for the American Civil Liberties Union from 1978 to 2001, spoke in person at the Saturday ceremony. It was Calaway’s generous support for the organization, in part, that helped build a fundraising infrastructure to carry the ACLU into the future.

“He understood that the Bill of Rights, without a strong organization outside the government to advocate for it, was unenforceable and had been unenforced for most of history,” Glasser said. “He made a rare difference for people in this country … whose rights would not have been protected.”

Shawna Foster, minister at Carbondale’s Two Rivers Universalist Unitarian congregation, of which Calaway was a member, recalled that he loved to wear “wonderful, bright socks.”

Giving back can be as simple as giving someone in need a pair of socks, Foster said, recounting that it was Calaway’s UU minister in Houston who suggested to him one day when he asked that he could find true happiness in giving.

“Every time Jim gave he felt loved,” Foster said, adding, “Always try to love … love as hard as you can.”

Son James Calaway offered a quote from George Bernard Shaw that he believed summed up his father’s legacy, which reads in part:

“I’m of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community, and as long as I live it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can.

“I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work, the more I live.

“I rejoice in life for its own sake. Life is no brief candle for me, it is a sort of a splendid torch which I get to hold onto for a moment. And I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it to future generations.”

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