Chuck Colson, 80, the onetime “hatchet man” to President Nixon who devoted his post-political career to Christian causes and an international ministry to prisoners, died Saturday at Inova Fairfax Hospital. Complications from bleeding on the brain are believed to have contributed to his final illness.
The burly ex-Marine captain and onetime corporate lawyer helped put Nixon in the White House in 1968, serving four years as Nixon’s special counsel and conduit to special interest groups. He was credited with authoring a memo detailing influential opponents of the Nixon administration, a document that became known as the “enemies list.”
Pleading guilty to an obstruction of justice charge related to White House activities against Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg, Mr. Colson served seven months of a one-year federal jail term. Once released, he devoted his life’s work to helping prisoners and their families, as well as being an exponent of the evangelical Christian faith he adopted shortly before entering jail. His book about those experiences, “Born Again,” became a best-seller and later a high-grossing film starring Dean Jones as Mr. Colson.
In 1976, Mr. Colson started what is now Prison Fellowship Ministries, which is active throughout the United States and in 112 other nations. Jim Liske, Prison Fellowship Ministries’ chief executive, said Mr. Colson’s “transformation was absolutely complete and phenomenal.”
“Prison Fellowship started because [Mr. Colson] would not forget the men he did time with,” Mr. Liske said. “He did time with them and wanted to make sure the message of true freedom in Jesus came to them.”
He wrote or co-authored 30 books that have sold a total of 5 million copies. His daily “Breakpoint” radio commentaries, heard on Christian radio stations across the United States grew to a daily audience of 8 million listeners.
“America is the land of second chances — and few men have made more of theirs than Chuck Colson did. For in addition to loving and serving his country, the former Marine captain and ‘president’s hatchet man’ came to love and serve a God of second chances,” Heritage Foundation President Edwin J. Feulner said.
Charles Wendell Colson, born Oct. 16, 1931, in Boston, was a graduate of Brown University and George Washington University Law School. In 1953, he married Nancy Billings, with whom he had three children: Wendell Ball Colson II, Christian Billings Colson and Emily Ann Colson, all of whom survive, along with several grandchildren. After a divorce, he in 1964 married Patricia Ann Hughes, who also survives.
In 1993, Mr. Colson received the prestigious Templeton Prize for progress in religion and gave the $1 million award to Prison Fellowship. President George W. Bush gave Mr. Colson the Presidential Citizens Medal, the nation’s second-highest civilian honor, in 2008.