James Ciarlo

James Anthony "Jim" Ciarlo

1933 - 2017

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Obituary of James Ciarlo

James (Jim) A. Ciarlo, 83, died on October 18, 2017 of Alzheimer’s disease. He is survived by his wife Dorothy, daughter Catherine (Erik Brakstad), son David (Jackie Elliott) and three grandchildren Siri, Sten, and Lily. 

            Jim Ciarlo was born on November 12, 1933, in Steger, Illinois to Anthony Ciarlo and Bernice Douglas. He had one older sister Grace who predeceased him. Jim attended Marmion Academy, a Catholic military boarding high school in Aurora, Illinois. He majored in economics at the University of Illinois, where he was valedictorian of his class in 1955. He then entered the Air Force for jet flight training. He loved flying, but chose to leave active duty after two years to earn a Masters degree in Psychology from Washington University in St. Louis, and then complete his Ph.D. at Harvard University. 

             During his clinical internship at Children’s Hospital in Boston, he met Dorothy Day, who was working as a psychologist there. They married in August of 1963 and were married for 54 years until his death.

            Jim taught at Wesleyan University and the University of Michigan before moving to Denver in 1968 to become Director of Program Evaluation at Denver General Hospital. He became well-known in the field of mental health program evaluation, winning more than a dozen federal grants from the National Institute of Mental Health. As an Associate Professor of Research at the University of Denver, he conducted a groundbreaking epidemiological survey of mental health in Colorado. His final grant involved studying rural mental health needs with a focus on suicide prevention in rural areas. As President of the Colorado Psychological Association in the 1980s, Jim helped form a committee of psychologists to educate the public and take preventive action very early in the AIDS epidemic.

            Jim was an engaged and loving father to his two children, Catherine and David. He taught his children skills from carpentry to canoeing. He spent time with his family at their cabin near Estes Park, initiating backpacking trips into Rocky Mountain National Park. He also planned a family trip down the Middle Fork of the Salmon River and a canoeing trip in the Boundary Waters of Minnesota.

            Throughout his life, starting in childhood with Boy Scouts and fishing on the Momence River in Illinois, Jim loved the natural world and the opportunities it provided. He became a master fly fisherman, and could study the waters and see and identify fish that were invisible to others. He and Dorothy continued to explore high mountain lakes into their seventies, where Jim fished and Dorothy took wildflower photographs.

            In his research – as in other parts of life – Jim was fascinated by new technologies and scientific information, but agreed with his favorite philosopher Norman Brown that “fools with tools are still fools.” He was interested in larger moral questions; he and his wife Dorothy argued heatedly over nuclear bomb shelters when they first met, but he eventually concluded that building bomb shelters promoted the fiction that it was possible to survive nuclear war – and Jim abandoned his plans to build one.

            Throughout his life, Jim became more and more interested in politics, moving from an Eisenhower vote in the 50s to becoming an ardent Ralph Nader supporter in 2000. He came to despise the modern world’s embrace of bombing in warfare and wondered in his later years how as a young man in the Air Force he could ever have loaded nuclear weapons onto jet planes.

            After moving to Boulder in 1990, Jim was active with the KGNU radio station. He was on the board of the Boulder Mental Health Center, serving as Board president in 2003-4. He was an enthusiastic member of the Boulder Olders softball team, and helped expand that team to include women players. He stopped playing only as Alzheimer’s disease slowed him down.

            The family thanks the staff of Balfour Cherrywood for their loving and thoughtful care of Jim in his final years.

            A memorial service will be held Friday, December 1st at 2pm at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Boulder, 5001 Pennsylvania St., Boulder, CO 80303. 

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