James Quigg Newton, Jr. (1911–2003) was a distinguished lawyer, politician, and philanthropist who served as mayor of Denver (1947–55), president of the University of Colorado (CU; 1956–63), and the head of several national charitable foundations. As mayor, Newton modernized Denver’s city government during the post–World War II population boom, and as CU president, he worked to make the university a nationally recognized research institution.
James Quigg Newton, Jr., was born in Denver on August 3, 1911, the son of a wealthy Denver businessman. During his youth, his family moved between New York City and Denver several times. As a teenager, he attended Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts, before attending Yale and Yale Law School.
After graduating from law school in 1936, Newton served as an assistant to William O. Douglass of the Securities and Exchange Commission in Washington, DC, for a year. In 1937 he returned to Denver and joined the prominent law firm of Lewis and Grant. In 1938 he and Richard Davis, his colleague and brother-in-law, formed their own firm specializing in tax and regulatory law.
During World War II, Newton served in the US Navy for four years as a legal officer and worked with the Naval Transport Command. In 1942, he married Virginia Shafroth, the granddaughter of John Shafroth, US senator and former governor of Colorado (1909–13). The couple had four daughters.
Following his discharge from the navy, at the age of thirty-five, Newton ran for mayor of Denver. E. Palmer “Ep” Hoyt convinced Newton to run with the backing of the The Denver Post. Newton ran against long-time Mayor Benjamin Stapleton and former US attorney Tom Morrissey. Newton’s vision for modernizing Denver won him almost 58 percent of the vote in the 1947 election. At the time of his election, Newton was the youngest mayor elected in Denver history, as well as the city’s first native-born mayor.
Newton served two terms as mayor, winning reelection in 1951 over city councilman Clarence Stafford by a two-to-one majority. During his tenure, Newton oversaw the modernization of Denver and the city’s government. He created the Career Service Authority, which removed the existing patronage system and separated city employment from politics; developed a planning office, which became the Denver Regional Council of Governments; established a system of competitive bidding for city contracts; established the first Community Relations Commission; and reorganized the Denver Police Department, which began employing civilians for nonenforcement positions.
He also reformed the city health department by crafting an agreement with the University of Colorado to provide teaching physicians to Denver General Hospital and by separating the Department of Health and Charities into two departments: Health and Hospitals, and Welfare. In addition, he adopted a new city building code, updated its traffic control system and pedestrian crosswalks, and created an off-street parking project to accommodate the increasing automobile traffic downtown.
During his time in office, Newton oversaw the construction of several significant buildings, such as the Coliseum and the city auditorium, the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, the Botanic Gardens, and the downtown public library building. Other projects included the construction of 2,300 public housing units and the Valley Highway, now Interstate 25, and an extension to the Stapleton Airport.
In 1953 Newton registered as a Democrat in order to run for the US senate seat that would be vacated by Edwin C. Johnson in the upcoming elections. Newton lost the primary election to former Denver district attorney John A. Carroll, who would go on to lose the general election bid to Gordon L. Allott. Newton chose not to run for mayoral reelection in 1955.
University of Colorado President
Following Newton’s exit from the mayor’s office, he served as president of the Ford Foundation in New York City for eighteen months before returning to Colorado in 1956 to become president of the University of Colorado. The university had greatly expanded in the postwar years and needed a leader with a new vision for the school. During his time at the University of Colorado, Newton worked to raise faculty salaries and transformed the university into a research institution. In doing so, Newton expanded the scientific research role of the university and the medical school. He also expanded the campus itself with new construction projects.
At CU, Newton became involved in a highly publicized football scandal. In the middle of the 1959 season, the board of regents chose to fire Coach Dal Ward. They named Everett “Sonny” Grandelius his successor. Grandelius led the team to an Orange Bowl victory in the 1961 season, but afterward an NCAA investigation revealed that Grandelius had allowed players to receive illegal financial help. Newton and the regents fired Grandelius, but the revelations caused severe backlash from the university and alumni community.
Additionally, Newton dealt with budget issues and criticism from faculty. He faced severe criticism for his emphasis on faculty research. Some in the university community criticized him for only hiring liberal, Democratic faculty. After seven years as president, Newton stepped down in 1963. He left a legacy of increased enrollment (both graduate and undergraduate), increased financial aid, a budget that was almost double what it was when he became president, new building construction, and a significant increase in research capacity, which improved the university’s national reputation.
After he left CU, Newton again took a job in New York, this time running the Commonwealth Fund, an organization that helped expand medical education and health care opportunities in underprivileged urban areas. Newton then took on a fellowship at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences in Palo Alto, California. In 1980, at the age of seventy, Newton and his wife returned to Denver. He joined his brother-in-law’s law firm, Davis, Graham, and Stubbs. Newton practiced law in Denver until his death of a heart attack on April 4, 2003.
In modernizing Denver’s city government and elevating CU to a nationally renowned research institution, Newton demonstrated transformative leadership amidst the tumultuous decades of the mid-twentieth century. Colorado’s largest city and its largest university owe a great deal of their ongoing success to that leadership.