Jim Kolbe

June 28, 1942 – December 3, 2022

Jim Kolbe was a man known not only for his convictions, work ethic, and integrity but also for a kindness, warmth, humility and generosity that illuminated all he did in life. Jim’s achievements are awe-inspiring. Being born to an independent-minded Arizona cattle rancher and an elegant candy heiress from Chicago helped form Jim’s own independent personality and integrity-filled values. 

Jim, a true trailblazer, left a legacy that makes the world a better place through his tireless efforts to preserve precious lands and cultural treasures, create sound economic policy, and promote free trade and the North American Free Trade Agreement. He touched our lives in so many ways—most of all as a true friend. He was many things to many people: a devoted and loving husband to Héctor Alfonso; a generous brother and uncle to his siblings and nieces and nephews; and the whip-smart kid of Walter and Helen Kolbe, who was determined to proceed with a plan formed early on his youth: to embark on a career in politics. He was successful on many fronts and was proudest of his role as mentor to the young men and women who benefited from his wisdom, experience, and expert advice.

His plan took him on a remarkable journey, from page in the U.S. Senate, to a BA degree from Northwestern University, international studies abroad in cities in Asia, the Middle East, Africa and Europe, to an MBA from Stanford University, commander of swift boat operations in the U.S. Navy during the Vietnam war for which he was presented with a Congressional Medal of Valor, six years of service in the Arizona Senate, and twenty-two extraordinary years of service in the U.S. House of Representatives. After his retirement from Congress, Jim became a senior Transatlantic Fellow for the German Marshall Fund, served on the board of counselors of McLarty Associates, and established JTK Consulting representing the interests of Arizona clients in the U.S. Congress.

Born in Evanston Illinois on June 28, 1942 to Walter and Helen Kolbe, Jim soon became an Arizona boy at the age of 5 when his family moved to their recently purchased cattle ranch, Rail X Ranch, near Patagonia. He attended elementary and high school in Patagonia until the age of 15 when he began his political career as a page in the U.S. Senate, appointed by Senator Barry Goldwater. He graduated as valedictorian in his class at the Capitol Page School in 1960.

His many years of community service included memberships on boards of directors of numerous organizations, educational institutions, and nonprofit organizations in Arizona and Washington DC. He was also a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. He received numerous awards and tributes, most notable among them is the George C. Marshall Award for Distinguished Service, the John S. McCain Award for Lifetime Service to Arizona, Tucson’s Man of the Year, 2006 Arizona Heritage Award, and induction into the Arizona Veterans Hall of Fame. 

Jim is survived by his beloved husband, Héctor Alfonso, sisters Beth Kolbe and Ginny Rousseau, sister-in-law, Mary Kolbe, several nieces and nephews and great-nieces and nephews, and many friends and colleagues.

A Memorial Service for Jim will be held on Saturday, January 28, 3:00 PM at the Catalina United Methodist Church, 2700 E. Speedway Blvd, Tucson. In lieu of flowers, contributions to any of the following charitable organizations in memory of Jim Kolbe are most welcome: Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona, Casa de los Niños, Patagonia Youth Enrichment Center, and the James T. Kolbe Scholarship fund at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.