Former Republican state Rep. Jim Sullivan died on Tuesday, April 14 at age 92 in his Perry Park home. Sullivan had suffered a stroke a week earlier.
Sullivan was born Nov. 19, 1927 in Iowa. A veteran of the Korean War, he later attended the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, earning a bachelor of science degree and a wife, Donna Barton. They married on Easter Sunday, March 25, 1951, a marriage that lasted 68 years until Donna died last December 8.
In between Iowa and Denver, the Sullivans lived in New York, where Jim sold shoes to shoe stores for Endicott Johnson, and in San Francisco, where he became friends with Jim Lange, the host of the long-running TV show the Newlywed Game.
According to Father Theron Walker of Emmaus Anglican, where the Sullivans were members, Jim also sang in a jazz mass with the Eucharist chorus at San Francisco’s Grace Cathedral. The mass was written by Vince Guaraldi, the composer of music for the Charlie Brown Christmas Special and other Peanuts cartoons.
The Sullivans moved to Colorado in 1972, not long after son Jim, Jr. began college at the University of Denver.
He was elected to the Colorado House in November 2004 and served one term. Facing a primary from up-and-comer Victor Mitchell, Sullivan chose to retire rather than run again in 2006.
His most notable bill was House Bill 05-1030, known as the “Super Slab,” a project pushed by former Lakewood City Manager Ray Wells. The project planned to develop a 210-mile toll road along the Eastern Plains from Fort Collins to Pueblo, but went down to defeat, based in part on strong opposition from rural Coloradans who would have lost property to the road.
“Sully” served 16 years as a Douglas County commissioner, from 1989 to 2004, leaving a giant footprint on the county and its communities, according to those who knew him well.
Lobbyist Mike Beasley worked on Sullivan’s 1992 county commissioner campaign. “He “was one of the most authentic and caring public servants I’ve ever worked with,” Beasley told Colorado Politics. “He had a vision of what he wanted Douglas County to be.”
That included development of Douglas County open space, as well as efforts to build C-470, widening I-25 through Douglas County; improvements to the Douglas County fairgrounds, including the event center and the stands; and the Park Meadows mall. “You can’t drive in Highlands Ranch without seeing something Jim guided,” Beasley said.
Walker commented that Sullivan made sure the mall was built “on the right side of the county line,” which brought in enormous tax benefits for Douglas County.
Beasley added that Sullivan’s efforts in the south metro area had visionary impact, not unlike that of Aurora Mayor Steve Hogan or Margaret Carpenter in Thornton. “They made the kind of decisions that will affect the metro area for generations.”
Sullivan also showed leadership on water, transportation, smart development and intergovernmental agreements on tax sharing, according to Beasley. “He was a solid Republican, very conservative, but he governed and got things done” and the type of county commissioner who is accustomed to being effective.
Melanie Worley served on the DougCo commission with Sullivan and remained friends with Jim and Donna for the rest of their lives.
Jim had “one of the best memories of any gentleman I ever worked with,” Worley said this week. Up to the end, he continued doing crossword puzzles, anything to keep his mind active, she said.
Sullivan was no fan of computers, Worley said. “We’d sit down the hall from each other” and he’d yell in colorful language about getting the computer out of his office, in that bellowing baritone voice, she said.
What he did like: newspapers. He’d read every one he could get his hands on. He loved the smell and feel of a newspaper, she said.
Several people also commented on Sullivan’s legendary sense of humor, which Beasley said could defuse any situation. About a 2006 bill that he co-sponsored that allowed an exemption to casinos for indoor smoking, according to Walker, Sullivan said, “Look, Mary Poppins isn’t going up there to gamble. If they want to smoke, let ‘em smoke.”
“I have lots of humility because I never use it,” Sullivan said, according to Walker. “He loved taking me places with him,” which Walker joked was a kind of job security.
Walker said his idea of a filing system was to throw a piece of paper in the backseat of the car, and when it was time to do the filing, “he’d go to Medved and get a new car,” Walker joked.
Sullivan also had a larger-than-life impact with the church, helping turn a vacant building into the church’s current home. He will be laid to rest in the church’s columbarium, which includes stonework done by his son. “He was very proud of that,” Walker said.
“We miss him,” Walker said. “He was a leader, a friend, a big-hearted guy.”
“I will miss him more than I can say,” said Beasley.
Sullivan is survived by son Jim Jr. and daughter Janet (Lee), and grandchildren David Cardoza, Nikky Rodgers and Tia Rodgers. He was preceded in death by infant daughter Carol Jo; a grandson, Cass James Gelroth; as well as his parents.
A public memorial service will be held at the Douglas County Fairgrounds, date to be determined.