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Saturday, August 19, 2023
11:00am - 12:00 pm (Mountain time)
Retired La Plata County District Court Judge and State of Colorado Senior Judge, James (“Jim”) Dobson Childress, died peacefully on 22 July 2023, in the same Childress family home on 5 th Avenue in Durango where he was born, with his loving wife, Nadine Marks, at his side. He was 92.
Jim was born 7 September 1930 to Dr. Thomas Earl Childress, a Missouri-born osteopath and elected Democrat to the Colorado State House of Representatives 1932-1938, and Ethel Dobson Childress, a high school English teacher from upstate New York. He had an older brother, Thomas (“Tom”), and a younger sister, Sarah (“Sally”).
Jim considered his small town childhood in Durango to have been idyllic. He was active in many sports, musical, and theatrical activities in elementary and high school. He worked a wide variety of part-time jobs for spending money during his youth. His work with the Durango News newspaper during high school led him to aspire to own and operate his own small town newspaper. With this aspiration in mind, after graduating from Durango High School in 1948, Jim attended the University of Colorado at Boulder, earning a degree in journalism in 1952.
With undergraduate degree in hand, Jim developed the idea that he might have more expansive opportunities in journalism if he augmented his education with a law degree. He began studies at Columbia Law School in New York City in the fall of 1952. Based on his academic merit in first year studies, he was invited to join the prestigious Columbia Law Review for the final two years of his studies. He completed his law degree in 1955, after which he worked for one year at a major law firm on Wall Street. About the time he was finishing up his law degree, Jim began dating Ranney Hughes, the daughter of Pulitzer-prize winning Columbia theater professor, Hatcher Hughes, and his wife, Janet Hughes. The couple married in June 1956, and a few months later Jim enlisted in the U.S. Army Judge Advocate General’s (JAG) Corps. The Army stationed Jim in Poitiers, France, for two-and-a-half years, during which time two sons were born: David Hatcher Childress and James (“Jamie”) Jonathan Childress.
Back in the U.S., Jim settled the family in the Denver area where he worked in private practice for two law firms. In 1965, Jim returned to Durango to establish a private law practice in his hometown. Not long after he arrived, Al Haas, District Attorney at the time, hired Jim to be his Assistant District Attorney. When Al returned to private practice, Jim became interim District Attorney; he was subsequently duly elected District Attorney in 1968 and 1972.
Jim returned to private practice in 1977. Colorado Governor Richard Lamm appointed Jim to be the La Plata County Court Judge in 1980. In 1982, Governor Lamm appointed Jim to be a La Plata County District Court Judge. Jim served in this role until summer of 1993, when he retired from his full-time position to become a part-time Senior Judge for the State of Colorado for the next fifteen years.
Jim was very active in numerous Durango institutions: the First Presbyterian Church, the Masonic Lodge, Kiwanis, local theater, local musicals, and choral groups that evolved into the Durango Choral Society.
Jim’s marriage to Ranney ended in divorce in 1972. In 1973, Jim married Gloria Phister Penwell. The couple was very involved in travel and naturalist activities, and founded an active chapter of The National Audubon Society in Durango.
Jim was always a strong “mountain man,” and hiked in the mountains alone or with others any opportunity he might get. He also loved walking all over “the village,” as he called Durango. Travel--and its connections with geography, human history, and natural history--was a passion Jim pursued throughout his long adult life.
After Jim and Gloria divorced, Jim became life partners with and married Nadine Marks, a long-time friend. Nadine and Jim met and worked together closely in both La Plata County Court and District Court as Judge and Deputy Clerk of Court for five years—1981-86. Jim moved to Madison, Wisconsin, to live with Nadine in late 2007, beginning a period of time when the couple kept two homes—one in Madison and one the Childress family home in Durango. After Nadine’s retirement from being a professor of human development and family studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, in 2012 the couple made Durango their year-round base, while also continuing to pursue joint passions for domestic and international travel, hiking, and music.
Jim is survived by his wife, Nadine; sister, Sally Evans (David Evans); sons, David Hatcher Childress (Jennifer Bolm) and Jamie Childress (Erinann Childress); grandsons, Finn Childress and Hatcher Childress; as well as numerous extended family and friends.
A Celebration of Life will be held at Hood Mortuary in Durango, on Saturday, 19 August 2023, at 11 a.m. All are welcome. Jim’s cremated remains will be distributed by the family in the Weminuche Wilderness.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Manna Soup Kitchen--Durango, or donor’s choice.