Recipient Biography

James "Jim" Andrew Colley


James "Jim" Andrew Colley (1933-2003) lived a special calling for a loving family, a stewardship for public parks, and a life-long commitment to an improved quality of life for Phoenix neighborhoods and citizens of all ages. Jim served the City of Phoenix as a public servant and directed a quarter century of parks, mountain and desert preserves and recreation programs for citizens of all ages. Jim's life in many ways mirrored the lives of every young man who grew up in a small rural community and matured into a leader of urban America in Alabama, Georgia, Virginia and Arizona. His commitment to the importance of nurturing young people to grow and develop into successful citizens became a national model, copied by cities across America. His contribution to Phoenix's quality of life is unequaled.


A born and bred farm boy, Jim grew up in rural Alabama and learned the values of hard work and love of family and community. Jim served his country as a Marine and was ready with orders to go to Korea just when the armistice was signed. Following his Honorable Discharge, Jim knew the importance of education and received a Bachelor's of Science Degree in Health, Physical Education and Recreation in 1959. Aspiring to be a "coach" Jim saw early in life the value of 4H, sports and recreation in order to keep kids out of trouble. Starting as a "one man department" in Alabama, Jim started a professional career spanning 40 years of devotion to public parks and recreation. After achieving a Master's Degree from the University of Georgia, Jim began a fast-paced career working for the Georgia Park and Recreation Society, the Norfolk, Virginia Parks and Recreation Department and finally, in 1979, as the newly appointed Director for the City of Phoenix Parks, Recreation and Library Department. Jim retired from Phoenix in October 2001.


Jim's achievements in public parks and recreation are highly chronicled at the national level. Jim earned just about every national recognition and award bestowed by the National Parks and Recreation Association including the Distinguished Service, Meritorious Service Awards and Life Trustee. Jim also received the Pugsley Award for service to conservation and the environment. Jim Colley was named President of several professional associations including the National Parks and Recreation Association, the Virginia Parks and Recreation Association, the Georgia Parks and Recreation Society, the American Academy for Parks and Recreation Administration. The Arizona Parks and Recreation Association named Jim a "Legend". Through Jim's leadership, the City of Phoenix was twice awarded the National Gold Medal by the National Sports Foundation.


But it was in Phoenix, where Jim's legacy truly leaves its mark for generations of Phoenicians to come. Through Jim's dynamic leadership and support, the City of Phoenix parks system grew into one of the leading examples in the Nation. A devoted community supporting the creation of a Mountain Park Preserve system greeted Jim in 1979. From this time forward, Phoenix has added mountain and desert parks totaling more than 30,000 acres. More than 3,000 acres of what Jim liked to call in that unique southern drawl, "flatland parks" developed during his tenure. Add dozens of new parks, swimming pools, recreation centers, libraries, museums, bike trails, golf courses and special park facilities, and you get a wonderful feeling for Jim's fingerprints in Phoenix. Jim wasn't just a facility person, He loved and cared for people; and people meant programs: lots of programs. Major special events in downtown Phoenix including the Fabulous Phoenix 4th of July, the Electric Light Parade, and Sunday on Central, were nurtured and developed during Jim's leadership. Jim had an extra special devotion to kids of all abilities, disabilities, backgrounds and skills. River Rampage, X-TATTOO removal and Clear Path are programs that reach out to children of all abilities and backgrounds. Where many cities in the country said "no" to the innovative and risky programs, Jim said to his devoted staff, "Show me a way." A major highlight of Jim's career was the naming and dedication of Camp Colley, an outdoor wilderness camp for children and families in northern Arizona. This Camp not only bears his name, but his loving family asks that donations be made to support this wonderful adventure camp for Phoenix kids and families. Jim responded to the crisis in juvenile crime and fostered the nation's largest after school program, Phoenix Activity City or PAC, for short. More than 160 schools, parks and churches are current PAC sites. No wonder juvenile crime statistics between 3 and 6 P.M. was drastically reduced in Phoenix.


For these achievements and many more, Jim was recognized with the prestigious Visionary Award for Valley Leadership. It is often stated that immortality is left in the memories of those of us who have been touched by the greatness of human achievement. Jim Colley touched our hearts, our lives and our feelings in fantastic ways.