Charles Colson (photo), President Nixon’s notorious “hatchet man,” who spent time in prison in the wake of the Watergate scandal before founding an international ministry and becoming an esteemed Christian leader, has died at age 80. Colson became ill March 30 while leading a meeting of Christian leaders at the Colson Center for Christian Worldview in Lansdowne, Virginia. The following morning he had surgery to remove a pool of clotted blood from the surface of his brain, and while doctors were initially optimistic about his recovery, his condition became grave and he died April 21 surrounded by his family.
“Evangelical Christianity lost one of its most eloquent and influential voices today with the death of Charles W. ‘Chuck’ Colson,” Prison Fellowship, the ministry he founded in 1976, said in a statement. The announcement went on to note that throughout his life after Watergate, Colson “won the respect of those who disagreed with his religious and political views thanks to his tireless work on behalf of prisoners, ex-prisoners, and their families. Colson maintained that the greatest joy in life for him was to see those ‘living monuments’ to God’s grace: Prisoners transformed by the love of Jesus Christ.”
Born on October 16, 1931 and raised in Boston, Colson turned down a full-ride scholarship to Harvard (something an admissions officer told him no one had ever done before), graduating instead from Brown University and George Washington University law school. He then served in the Marines, worked for Republican politicians, and had a successful private law practice before signing on with the Nixon Administration.
Had it not been for Colson’s own high-profile prison stint, the life of the one-time Special Counsel to President Nixon could have turned out much differently. “Colson once famously said he’d walk over his grandmother to get the president elected to a second term,” recalled the Associated Press of his role in Nixon’s Committee to Re-elect the President — specifically his underhanded efforts to collect intelligence on the Democratic Party. In 1972 the Washington Post referred to Colson as “one of the most powerful presidential aides, variously described as a troubleshooter and as a ‘master of dirty tricks.’”
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Photo of Charles Colson: AP Images