Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Charles Colson Oct. 16, 1931 - April 21, 2012 Watergate 'Hatchet Man' Turned Prison Reformer

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Charles Colson Oct. 16, 1931 - April 21, 2012 Watergate 'Hatchet Man' Turned Prison Reformer

Article excerpt

Charles Colson, a Watergate felon and prison reformer who died Saturday at age 80 in northern Virginia, was two people.

He was Richard Nixon's "hatchet man," the president's "evil genius," who by his own admission was "ruthless in getting things done" in the Watergate years, when the things that he and others in the White House were getting done would become a national disgrace and send Mr. Colson to prison.

And he was a born-again Christian, the founder of the world's largest prison ministry, an "unfailingly kind but tremendously courageous" intellectual leader of the evangelical movement.

Mr. Colson died from complications resulting from a brain hemorrhage at a hospital in the Washington, D.C., suburb of Falls Church, a spokesman for his ministry said. He had undergone surgery three weeks ago to remove a pool of clotted blood on his brain.

"He had this reputation as being this ruthless guy. Even Richard Nixon thought he was ruthless," said Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. "That is so different than the Chuck Colson I knew. He was the least ego-driven and one of the most friendly, kind people I've ever known."

The fact that Mr. Colson was "born again" into evangelical Christianity as he was about to be charged in the Watergate scandal caused much snickering in the press. But Mr. Colson's conversion proved genuine and lasting. After serving seven months, mostly at the Maxwell Correctional Facility in Alabama, he founded Prison Fellowship Ministries, which says it operates in 1,367 prisons in the U.S. and has more than 200,000 inmates participating in its programs.

Mr. Colson turned PFM into a respected conglomerate of organizations and programs dedicated to serving prisoners, ex- prisoners and their families and encouraging them to embrace Jesus Christ. And as his organization grew, so did his fame with evangelicals. His daily four-minute BreakPoint radio commentary was carried by 1,300 stations.

But, unlike the Pat Robertsons or Jerry Falwells of the evangelical movement, Mr. Colson never sought the limelight.

And unlike some others in his world, he apparently never amassed great personal wealth from his work. He took an annual salary of $113,000 from his prison groups and donated all royalties from his 30 books, substantial speaking fees, and the $1 million Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion he was awarded in London in 1993 to his prison fellowship.

But whether Mr. Colson will be known more for his good works or his bad may depend on which audience is remembering.

For the survivors of the Watergate era, Mr. Colson was one of the central figures in the scandals generally grouped together under the rubric of Watergate. Appointed special counsel to the Republican president in 1969, he was the author of the famous Nixon Enemies List. …

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