Deceased October 4, 2023

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The class lost a gem of a man when Jim Bookwalter died on Oct. 4, 2023, after a long illness. His charm, intelligence, sharp wit, warm smile and unfailing good humor made him a joy to be around. We at Chi Psi were particularly fortunate to have Jim as a “brother.”

Jim was at a gathering in New York in 1973 that included Henry Neal ’60, a recent graduate of NYU Law School who had taken a job with the McKay Commission to investigate the Attica prison revolt. Henry knew the commission chairman and that it was difficult to hire staff given the uncertain duration of the work and its remote location. He called out, “Hey, Bookwalter, do you want a job with the McKay Commission?”

“My life was transformed,” said Jim. He moved to remote Attica, conducted interviews of inmates with New York State Police troopers and edited the PBS documentary. Later, he received a call inviting him to apply for a job as a correctional ombudsman in Connecticut. In response to prisoner demand, an ombudsman position had been created outside the state government. “I donned the mantle of expert, but no one, including me, knew what a correctional ombudsman might do.” When the independent agency folded, Jim established the Connecticut Correctional Ombudsman program to continue; it was funded by the legislature until 2011, when budget considerations moved the independent ombudsman into the corrections department. After 37 years, the ombudsman service ended. “I have the satisfaction of believing that I have done something useful and worth doing.”

In 1973, Jim said, “If you buy this (a salad bowl), it means you’ve settled.” He met Fredrika “Fi” Neaverson, a teacher; bought a house; and married Fi in 1977. They had four children: three daughters and a son. 

Bob Barrett ’61 and Anna (Bookwalter) Hildreth