Tom Carney, 86, was preparing for bed on the evening of Feb. 3 in his home, overlooking the lights of Golden.
“I came back in the bedroom, and he was gone,” his wife Mim Swartz Carney said.
Carney’s life included a long and varied list of honors. He served as an officer in the U.S. Army during World War II. He earned a petroleum degree from the Colorado School of Mines, and a law degree from the University of Colorado.
As an attorney, Carney had a lead role in the establishment of a legal aid office for Jefferson County residents. He served a term on the Jefferson County School Board, was chairman of the county Republican Party in the 1950s, served as county attorney from 1960-63, and as Golden city attorney from 1965 to 1973. Carney was an active member of the Colorado Bar Association, and was named the Bar president in 1976. He was also appointed to the Colorado Racing Commission, a post he held for 15 years.
“He had a great mind,” Mim Swartz Carney remembers. “He loved his work with the racing commission. He loved the practice of law, and he loved traveling.”
Carney grew up in Wilmette, Ill., as the son of a Sears executive. Carney’s first taste of travel came as a young boy, as family vacations and his father’s work took him around the world.
Both Carney’s parents died before he was 17. He was enrolled in a military school, and graduated on D-Day. Carney was drafted at 18, and was eventually commissioned as a second lieutenant. At one point, he was given command of a POW camp for German generals and officers. When his charges were transferred to the Nuremberg Trials, Carney served as a military police officer, standing guard outside the courthouse. In his off-time he slipped inside to listen to the proceedings.
Carney did not know where Golden was when he first decided to attend the School of Mines on the advice of a cousin who wanted him to run a mining operation in Wyoming. But once here, his wife said he fell in love with the area.
“Oh, he loved it,” Mim Swartz Carney said. “Once he saw the mountains, that was it.”
It was at the School of Mines that Carney met, and later married his first wife Patricia Amack. They had two children together. After graduating, Carney started his own petroleum business, only to eventually sell it and go into law. After working with some firms in Denver, Carney opened up his own firm with fellow School of Mines graduate Leo Bradley. Their first office was above the Ace Hi Tavern in downtown Golden.
Carney’s legal career would span civil and criminal casework, municipal law and interstate commerce.
“The big thing with Tom is that he used a lot of common sense,” said Al Auger, the former director of Government Affairs for Coors Brewery.
Auger said he worked with, and relied on, Carney for years, as Carney’s firm represented the brewery as it tried to expand distribution beyond the western states.
“Tom was always well respected and very astute, in every legal setting,” Auger recalls.
Even years after their retirement, Auger said he was proud to call Carney a personal friend. The two would meet every couple months for lunch, “and we would share our opinions on the matters of the day, even though no one was asking us.”
Carney married Mim Swartz Carney, then an investigative reporter, in 1987. He spent much of his second marriage going on trips for Mim Swartz Carney’s job as a travel editor for the Rocky Mountain News and Denver Post.
“Our favorite place to go was Venice,” Mim Swartz Carney said. “We’d always joke that if we were within a thousand miles, we’d detour there.”
“Tom, when he’d come back from those journeys and would really enthrall us with his stories of cultural and historical facts,” Auger said.
Though his health had been failing in recent months, Mim Swartz Carney said her husband’s Sudoku hobby helped him keep his mind sharp to the end. Carney also maintained his other lifelong hobby of being a sports fan. He finished watching that one last Super Bowl before passing.
Carney is survived by his children from his first marriage, T.J. Carney of Golden and Diane Carney of Chicago. He also leaves behind three grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren.
The Carney family has asked that donations in his memory be sent to the Cat Care Society, 5787 W. 6th Ave., Lakewood, CO 80214, or the Dumb Friends League, 2080 S. Quebec St., Denver, CO 80231.