Biography

R. James “Jim” Nicholson

JimNicholsonJim Nicholson was honored as the 2013 recipient of the Adam Smith Award presented by the Colorado Council for Economic Education.  The award is given in recognition for a record of strong community service, defense of the free enterprise system, and high ethical standards.  Watch the tribute video.

Jim Nicholson was born during the Great Depression in 1938, the third child of seven, and raised on a tenant farm in Struble, Iowa. Like most poor American families, the Nicholsons knew that a good education would create opportunity and he worked hard to earn an appointment to the Unites States Military Academy. He notes his Army service as the defining experience in his life, imbuing him with a sense of duty, honor, and country.

After graduation from West Point, Jim Nicholson served eight years as an Army Ranger and paratrooper, then 22 years in the Army Reserve, retiring with the rank of full colonel. As a Ranger in Vietnam, he earned the Bronze Star Medal, the Combat Infantry Badge, the Meritorious Service Medal with Oak Leaf Cluster, the Vietnamese Cross for Gallantry, and two Air Medals.

U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See Jim Nicholson presents his diplomatic credentials to Pope John Paul II two days after the terrorist attacks of 9-11-2001.

U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See Jim Nicholson presents his diplomatic credentials to Pope John Paul II two days after the terrorist attacks of 9-11-2001.

Nicholson earned a Master in Public Policy degree from Columbia University in New York and a Juris Doctorate from the University of Denver College of Law. He practiced law with a major Denver law firm and after two years became a partner, specializing in real estate, municipal finance, and zoning law.

Leaving the law in 1978, he founded Nicholson Enterprises, Inc., a developer of master planned residential communities. In 1987, he bought Renaissance Homes, which became a nationally known, award-winning builder of high quality, custom homes.

Nicholson’s success in business was matched by his contributions to his community. He served three years as chairman of the Volunteers of America in Colorado, which is the largest faith-based social service agency in the Rocky Mountain States. He chaired the Community Concerns Committee of the Denver Bar Association; he provided leadership to the Listen Foundation, and many other non-profit endeavors, which earned him the stature of one of Colorado’s outstanding community leaders.  He also served as a commissioner on the Colorado Air Quality Control Commission.

In January 1986, Nicholson was elected Colorado’s Republican National Committeeman; in 1993 he was elected vice-chairman of the RNC. In January 1997, Jim Nicholson was elected chairman of the Republican National Committee, after a nationwide campaign against five other candidates. In his first year as chairman, he broke all party records for fundraising, helping to win the stunning series of 1997 Republican electoral victories for governors, mayors and state legislatures known as the “Clean Sweep” of 1997.

Nicholson’s tenure as chairman was marked by record fund raising and flawless adherence to rules and ethics and culminated in the history-making victories of the 2000 elections. Under Nicholson’s leadership, the Republican Party won the presidency, the Congress, and a majority of governorships and state legislatures, a feat not achieved by Republicans in nearly fifty years.

Secretary Jim Nicholson with President Bill Clinton and President George H. Bush at the White House discussing rebuilding efforts in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

Secretary Jim Nicholson with President Bill Clinton and President George H. Bush at the White House discussing rebuilding efforts in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

After appointment by President George W. Bush in 2001, Jim Nicholson was sworn-in as the sixth U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See, and presented his credentials to the Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, on September 13, 2001, just two days after the deadly terrorists attacks on the U.S.A.  This began a long and fruitful friendship with the late Pope that culminated in Nicholson being knighted by the Pope.

As Ambassador in Rome, Nicholson built a reputation as a forceful advocate for human rights and American humanitarian concerns worldwide, with particular emphasis on ending human trafficking, religious freedom, food technology in Africa, and thwarting international terrorism.

Nicholson advocated forcefully for the acceptability of genetically modified food to help feed the 800 million starving and undernourished people in the world. He worked closely with his bilateral partners in the Vatican as well as those of other nations.

In 2002, he authored The United States and the Holy See – The Long Road. The book tells the history of the diplomatic relationship between the United States, the temporal superpower, and the Vatican, the spiritual superpower, dating from 1788 to present time.

As mentioned, on October 16, 2003, Pope John Paul II named Jim Nicholson a Knight of the Grand Cross of the Order of Pius IX. The Grand Cross is the highest papal award given to a layman who is not a head of state.

A conference on human trafficking, organized by Ambassador Jim Nicholson, brought together more than 400 people from 35 countries to find ways to end 21st century slavery.

A conference on human trafficking, organized by Ambassador Jim Nicholson, brought together more than 400 people from 35 countries to find ways to end 21st century slavery.

Jim Nicholson was nominated by President George W. Bush to serve as Secretary of Veterans Affairs.  He was unanimously confirmed by the Senate on January 26, 2005, and was sworn into office on February 1, 2005.

He served as Secretary for more than two and a half years, during which time he transformed the department so that it was better prepared to address the demands placed on it as veterans returned from Iraq and Afghanistan.  He led a major upgrade of the department’s information technology system, mandated the newly-formed Genetic Medicine Program, and worked to improve care for veterans with brain injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder.

As Secretary, Nicholson also launched a campaign to reduce high rates of obesity and diabetes among veterans, created a new multi-campus academy in partnership with U.S. nursing schools to address a nursing shortage, encouraged nurses to work for the VA, added suicide prevention counselors at each of VA’s 153 hospitals and created a 24-hour prevention hotline, and greatly expanded the VA’s store-front clinics with extended hours to serve veterans.  A lasting legacy of Secretary Nicholson’s is the program he put in place to significantly reduce staph infections in VA hospitals.

WestPointlgNicholson resigned as Secretary in 2007 to return to the private sector and now serves as Special Counsel with Brownstein Hyatt Farber Shreck LLC. His practice areas include public policy, health care, international law, state and federal regulatory law, real estate, oil and gas, and alternative energy.

Secretary Nicholson has been awarded honorary degrees from several prestigious universities, including: Regis University, Denver, CO; University of Dallas, Dallas, TX; John Cabot University, Rome, Italy; Ave Maria School of Law, Ann Arbor, MI; and Kings College, Wilkes Barre, PA; Catholic University, Washington, DC; and the American University of Rome, Italy.

Jim Nicholson is the recipient of numerous other honors. He served as a presidential appointee on the Board of Directors of the New Community Development Corporation and, also by presidential appointment, as a commissioner of the Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services (DACOWITS).

In 1999, Jim Nicholson was honored by induction as a Knight in the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, one of the highest honors awarded to a Roman Catholic. In 2000, he was given the prestigious Horatio Alger Award, recognizing his climb from humble beginnings to a position of success, which has enabled him to serve others less fortunate. In 2003, he received the Imago Dei “Image of God” Award from the Archdiocese of Denver for his ongoing work for humanitarian causes, including courageously confronting the issues of starvation and slavery in the world.

Ambassador Jim Nicholson and his wife Suzanne visit orphans at Christmas in Rome.

Ambassador Jim Nicholson and his wife Suzanne visit orphans at Christmas in Rome.

In 2005, Irish America magazine named him one of the “Top 100 Irish Americans” in the country. He was recognized for his excellence with the coveted President’s Medal from Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. and he was the recipient of the Beckett Fund’s Canterbury Medal. Jim Nicholson’s proudest recognition was his selection in 2005 as the Distinguished Graduate of the U.S. Military Academy.

Nicholson is married to the former Suzanne Marie Ferrell of Highland Falls, New York, who is an accomplished artist.  They are parents of three adult children and two grandchildren.