Guest Columns


Jim Monaghan was my ‘mentor-in-chief’

The Colorado Statesman

All politicians stand on the shoulders of other people. Politics is a team sport — but it has the cruelest reward system, because the glory goes almost exclusively to the candidate. No day-after pictures of the smiling winning team — like sailing, soccer, football — no, no the spotlight settles on one person, almost to the exclusion of those who did the most work.

You win in politics by taking advantage of people, imposing on their family time, often reducing their income — disturbing their sleep patterns — substituting your ambition and goals for theirs. You can never repay what they did for you. And there are so many of them.

Then, if you win, you have an obligation to your new job to be ungrateful — because the same people who helped elect you are often not the same people who you need to run the government.

To put together a governing team requires “monumental ingratitude” to many who just worked to elect you — because you need different skills in government.

Both in campaigning and in government, I stood on the broad shoulders of Jim Monaghan. There were other broad shoulders — many in this sanctuary — but none did I rely on for as long or as deeply as Jim Monaghan.

This is ironic; because on the night I was elected I had grave doubts that Jim Monaghan would fit into government. Was I mistaken!

Jim not only fit in, but he became indispensable. Give Jim a job and it would get done.

It would not only get done, it would get done by a training team of talented young people who were devoted to Jim Monaghan and would work endless hours for Jim. Jim nurtured talent. He was the mentor-in-chief of my administration.

One former aide said, “I knew Jim as a young, idealist, environmentalist in Dick Lamm’s first run for Governor. Long before faxes and computers, we made two daily rounds in my VW Bug delivering press releases in Denver. In those days, Jim could barely manage the rent on his home. Brilliant, creative, and wickedly funny, he was an early and unequaled mentor.”

There are dozens like that — the audience is full of them — people who were inspired and mentored by Jim. They were inspired by his kindness, generosity, integrity, and selflessness (selflessness: that’s a word that came up often when people talk about Jim Monaghan.)

In 1723 in London, at the memorial of Christopher Wren — the architect who built St. Paul’s Cathedral and many other of the great buildings of London — one eulogist said, “If you seek his monument, look around you.”

The same can be said about Jim Monaghan. “If you seek his monument, look around you, at all the human monuments Jim helped create.”

Jim knew how to blend talent and build a comprehensive team. He had a great B.S. detector.

There was this one crazy lady — I mean crazy — her name was Lisa as I remember — who boldly went up to Monaghan in 1982 and said, “I can raise $100,000 for your candidate in one night.” Jim didn’t have much tolerance for bragadossa and he dismissed her by saying, “Well, go do it.”

Lisa, of course, did exactly as promised and stayed on to be the love of Jim’s life.

When I walked into Jim’s hospital room a week ago, Lisa said to Jim — who was drifting in and out of consciousness — Lisa said, “Look, Jim, it’s Dick Lamm, the man who gave you your first and best job in life.”

There was a pause — Celtic music playing in the background when one of Jim’s irreverent sons said, “You got that wrong, Lisa, it was Jim who got Dick Lamm his best job in life.”

That was reflective of the mood for Jim’s final hours. His lovely wife Lisa, Jim’s sister, his devoted sons Brian and Jim (and Jim’s wife), Maria Garcia Berry, Cy Harvey.

The room was filled with grief and humor — dark humor, but tension-relieving humor. Like Yogi Berra’s famous line, “If you don’t go to people’s funerals, they won’t go to yours!”

Someone remembered that Mark Twain once said that the first thing he does every morning or awaking, is to check the obituaries, and if his name isn’t there, he gets out of bed — everyone would laugh and cry.

I have lost two indispensable pillars of my life and career — Jim Monaghan and John Parr.

Medical ethicists are exploring the concept of “fair inning.” If, in an expensive age of high-technology
medicine — perhaps you don’t do some things to those — say, over 85 — because they have had “fair innings”. Jim Monaghan and John Parr did not get their fair innings. Both died too young with so much that they still wanted to accomplish.

Let me end by paraphrasing Saint- Exupéry, who wrote The Little Prince, who flew the mail in Africa in the 1920s.
Saint-Exupéry writes poignantly of never being able to replace old friends — “That old friends cannot be created out of hand.”

“Nothing can match the treasure of common memories of trials endured together, of quarrels and reconciliations and generous emotions. It is idle, having planted an acorn in the morning to expect that afternoon to sit in the shade of the oak.”

There are many of us in this sanctuary who will grievously miss sitting in the shade of that oak named Jim Monaghan.

Richard “Dick” Lamm, Democrat, served three terms as the Governor of Colorado from 1975 to 1987. He began his political career in 1964 in the General Assembly. Lamm ran for the Reform Party’s nomination for President in 1996. He is currently the co-director of the Institute for Public Policy Studies at the University of Denver. He delivered the above eulogy at the funeral service of Jim Monaghan on May 22.