James Colker
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James Colker

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James Colker

COLKER: James Colker, on May 1, 2019. James (“Jim”) Colker, a 91-year-old innovative entrepreneur and lover of the arts, died peacefully at his Pittsburgh home of heart disease. He spent his last weeks surrounded by family, listening to jazz and watching Turner Classic movies. Jim was well known for his leadership in helping transform Pittsburgh from a struggling rust belt city to a high tech innovation hub. But he would say his biggest accomplishment was his 59 wonderful years of marriage to Janice Seiner Colker, who died on August 9, 2009. He also had a passion for growing things, including flowers, vegetables, investments and businesses. After a year of art studies at Carnegie Tech where he became friends with Andy Warhol, Jim transferred to the University of Pittsburgh and graduated with a B.S. in physics in 1949. Jim’s first professional job at R.C.A. reflected his lifelong fascination with radios, and his home eventually became filled with antique radios that he restored. In 1957, Jim took a job with J.W. Fecker where his boss was Joe Kalla, who later became his business partner. In 1964, with four young children to support, Jim took the courageous step of helping purchase Goerz Optical (later acquired by Contraves) with Joe Kalla and Ken Kemp. Meanwhile, Jim and Janice began to travel, spending time in Paris, San Tropez and Palm Beach. They also enjoyed going to the ballet, chamber music, opera, and symphony, acquiring art and visiting their children and grandchildren. Jim’s wine collection was meticulously tracked in a spiral binder, reflecting his engineering background and attention to detail. Likewise, his beautiful garden was the envy of the neighborhood. While working as president of Contraves, Jim simultaneously initiated many local economic development activities and worked with PA governors on a bipartisan basis to improve the business climate. In 1981, he helped form the Pittsburgh High Technology Council, becoming its first president and then chairman of the board. In 1985, “Business Week” named him as one of the top 50 U.S. business leaders. He also was on the board of several nonprofit organizations, including Magee Women’s Hospital where he was intimately involved in key expansion initiatives, Blue Cross, and the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute. In 1987, he left Contraves and founded the CEO Ventures Fund, which focused on nurturing Pittsburgh’s growing start-up community. He enjoyed mentoring young entrepreneurs, helping them turn their new ideas into successful enterprises. In recognition of his decades of work in the venture capital field, he received the Lifetime Entrepreneurial Achievement Award from the Pittsburgh Venture Capital Association in 2009. Jim is survived by his four children: David Colker (Alexis Mitman Colker), San Mateo, California; Hank Colker (Laura Andrews Colker), Pittsburgh; Ruth Colker (David Levine), Columbus, Ohio; Sarah Colker (Joseph Moskowitz), Hoboken, New Jersey; a brother Alan (Lynne) Colker; and seven grandchildren. Visitation will start at 1 pm Sunday May 5th at Ralph Schugar Chapel, Inc., 5509 Centre Avenue, Shadyside. Services will be at 2 pm, followed by interment at Homewood Cemetery/Star of David Section. Contributions in his memory may be made to Carnegie Mellon University, Janice Seiner Colker (A ’51) Undergraduate Research Fund. schugar.com
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