Joseph Dolan, born Nov. 21, 1921, died Wednesday at home in Englewood, the Denver Post reports. The lifelong Democrat was first elected to the State Legislature in the 1950s, was “the point man” on civil rights legislation in the Kennedy Administration in the 1960s, ran for the Senate and later served as Colorado’s U.S. attorney in the 1970s , and headed up the Colorado Department of Transportation in the 1980s, after a long history as an early proponent of light rail. “He was probably the most significant political person living in Colorado that nobody ever heard of,” former Gov. Dick Lamm said Thursday.
The Denver Post’s Virginia Culver pens an obituary filled with tributes from top state Democrats, including former senator and presidential candidate Gary Hart, who beat Dolan in a 1974 Senate primary. “I had enormous respect for him,” Hart said.
Dolan’s early political career was hitched to the Kennedys. After a term in the legislature, he joined John Kennedy’s presidential campaign and then served in the Department of Justice as a deputy to Attorney General Bobby Kennedy. After JFK’s assassination, Dolan became Bobby’s chief aide when he was elected senator from New York. His advance work on RFK’s presidential campaign was cut short by another assassin’s bullet in 1968.
“He was absolutely indispensable to the Kennedys and I’m sure would probably would have been chief of staff for Bobby Kennedy if he’d been elected,” Lamm said.
Former Gov. Roy Romer, who served with Dolan in the legislature, told the Post: “He loved politics; he understood the process, the tactics and strategies.”
“Joe was progressive, and that was not an easy thing in those days,” said former U.S. Rep. Pat Schroeder, now president of the Association of American Publishers in Washington.
He worked for child care for working mothers and health care for middle-income as well as low-income people — topics that were not always on the front burner in the 1960s and ’70s.
“He was concerned about civil rights and housing and poverty. He was also a storyteller and a nice guy to hang out with,” Schroeder said.
Services will be private. Memorial donations can go to The Joseph and Martha Dolan Public Policy Scholarship at the University of Denver.