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James D. Nicholson, A Man Who Lived a Fascinating Life

UPDATED with photo and links to related articles

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Jim Nicholson
(CNBNews file photo)


William E. Cleary Sr. | CNBNews Editor/Publisher


I like to think that my obituary is already being written in a lot of little obituaries. It's already out there."    ~Jim Nicholson


GLOUCESTER CITY, NJ (February 23, 2019)(CNBNewsnet)—James D. Nicholson, of Gloucester City, NJ, died from heart failure on Friday, February 22, 2019, in Cooper Hospital, Camden City. Born in Philadelphia, he previously lived in Cherry Hill, NJ. He was 76. 

Gary Marcucci, Jim's longtime friend and high school classmate, said he was a true hero. If you ever had the chance to talk with him or be in his presence you would know it. But, if you knew his background like some of us did you were amazed that this ordinary small man did so much in his life. He was hero in so many ways. He did so much for his country, and for his friends and family. He was dedicated to serving his country and risked his life at times. He never would talk about it. It would disappear sometimes for months doing something for the military. We wouldn't find out about his military accomplishments until we read something about it in the newspapers. Earlier this month he and I along with Marty Sherry, Bill Tourtual, and Bill Cleary had breakfast together at Ponzios. Jim looked great. I am in shock that he is gone. His death saddens me deeply."

"Jim was a man of few words," said his friend Bill Tourtual. I was lucky to have known him since high school and feel privileged to have him in my life for all these years. Not many people know that for 10 years he took care of his wife, who had Alzheimers Disease, around the clock for 7 days a week. She was bedridden.  Not many people could or would do that.

Tourtual was interviewed for a 2008 article written by CNBNews about Lt. Colonel Nicholson volunteering for a tour in Iraq with the United States Army. At the time he was asked to describe his good friend,  “Modest, quiet, and low-keyed you would never know from looking at him that this man has ice water running through his veins.” Tourtual said Nicholson had been responsible for taking down bad guys for over 35 years and yet rarely if ever talks about his adventures with his friends or family.

Tourtual was referring not only to Nicholson's military career but also to his life as an investigating reporter who was responsible for uncovering the "Black Mafia" operating in Philadelphia in the '70s. 

Some of his featured work included stories on murder, the Philly Mob, the riots, and outlaw motorcycle gangs to mention a few. Five of his series led three different Philly-area papers to recommend him for Pulitzers. He also was a radio announcer for a time.

Sean Patrick Griffin, an author of *Black Brothers Inc, writes …..Investigative reporter Jim Nicholson was the first journalist to lift the lid on the ‘Black Mafia’. The gang operated a multi-million illegal drug business in North Philadelphia and up and down the east coast. His cover stories for the Philadelphia Magazine and Today revealed a vicious, insidious syndicate that was unknown to the wider population.

He went right to the top and called Mayor Frank Rizzo. Back in 1970, Nicholson had spent hours at then-Police Commissioner Rizzo’s home and interviewed Rizzo while he watched himself on a national television special called Super Chief. The two hit it off, so much so that Rizzo offered Nicholson a position as public relations officer with the department. Nicholson politely declined, despite the substantial increase in pay the job would have provided. Rizzo was apparently not offended by the rejections, because when Nicholson called him requesting assistance on the proposed Black Mafia project in 1973, Rizzo called Police Commissioner Joseph F. O’Neill and told him to provide Nicholson access to the pertinent information.

In 1982 Jim was tired of investigative reporting and jumped at the chance to take over the obituary page for the Philadelphia Daily News. In May 2008, seven years after he retired, Jim won the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Society of Professional Obituary Writers.

 Marilyn Johnson, the author of The Dead Beat, said at the time, "In that position, Nicholson received national attention when ASNE, the American Society of Newspaper Editors, gave him a Distinguished Writing Award for his richly detailed, colorful obituaries of ordinary Philadelphians. The Daily News let him work an eight-or-nine month year on the obits desk, and the rest of the time he threw himself into counterintelligence adventures.

Mr. Nicholson worked as an Obituary Writer for the Philadelphia Daily News for 19 years retiring in 2001.  

Previously he had worked for The Inquirer, The Bulletin, Philadelphia Magazine, WCAU All-News Radio and IBS Investigative Services, all Philadelphia-based and for the Wilmington News-Journal (DE), the Baltimore News American (MD), the Camden Courier Post (NJ) and the Independent American (LA.)  

He also had worked as a police department intelligence analyst Camden City, NJ PD), political field organizer and speech writer, cement finisher, oil rig floor hand, truck dock worker and car salesman. Author of informal intelligence textbooks, “Because No One Else Can,” (Amazon, 2012) and “Strengthening the Four Pillars; Evaluating Intelligence Architecture,” (Amazon 2018.)

Jim graduated from Gloucester City High School, Class of 1960;  Jones County Junior College, (AA Degree, 1962), University of Southern Mississippi (BA Degree, journalism, 1964) US Army Command & General Staff College (Diploma, non-resident, 1991.) 

 He served in the US Marine Corps Reserve, (1960-1965.) Honorable Discharge, Private First Class. Served in the NJ Army National Guard as a Captain (Direct Commission) from 1982-84 then transferred to the US Army Reserve (1984-2002.) His MOS (Military Occupational Specialty) was 35E, Counterintelligence Officer. He retired with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. He did tours of active duty as an Intelligence Officer in the Pentagon, Defense Intelligence Agency, US Central Command, US Forces Command, Joint Task Force-Six, Ft. Bliss, TX, two multi-agency counter-drug task forces, Central America, the Middle East and along the Mexican Border. Voluntarily returned to active duty for a one-year tour in Iraq, 2008-09.


Mr. Nicholson received honors from the Society of Professional Obituary Writers’ first Lifetime Achievement Award, 2008; the Editorial Excellence Award for the Knight-Ridder newspaper chain, 1991; the American Society of Newspaper Editors first Distinguished Writing Award for Obituary Writing, 1987 and the Eagle Scout Award, Boy Scouts of America, 1956. 

He was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize six times; 1968, Wilmington, DE, News-Journal (MLK riots, team coverage), 1970, Philadelphia Inquirer (Yablonski murder case investigation), 1971, Philadelphia Inquirer (Veterans Stadium investigation), 1976, Philadelphia Bulletin, (outlaw motorcycle gang investigation), 1977, Philadelphia Bulletin (Chester City (PA) corruption investigation), 1986, (Philadelphia Daily News,

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Lt. Col. Nicholson (Iraq, 2008)
CNBNews file photo

obituary writing.) 

His Army military awards and decorations include the Soldier’s Medal, Bronze Star Medal, Meritorious Service Medal, Joint Service Commendation Medal with oak leaf cluster, Army Commendation Medal with two oak leaf clusters, Army Achievement Medal, Iraq Campaign Medal with star, Global War on Terrorism Medal, Armed Forces Reserve Ribbon with “M” device, National Guard Emergency Mobilization ribbon, Overseas Service Ribbon and Army Reserve Overseas Deployment Ribbon with numeral six.

Jim was a member of the St. Andrews United Methodist Church, Cherry Hill, NJ, where he and his wife, Betty had taught Sunday School; the National Military Intelligence Association, the Association of Former Intelligence Officers, the Military Intelligence Corps Association, the Military Officers Association of America, Old Salts & Assorted Spies Assoc. (OSAS) and the Society of Professional Obituary Writers, Jones County Junior College Alumni Association.

Nicholson had 45 years  experience as an investigator, analyst, intelligence officer and journalist in the areas of criminal, tactical, counter-guerrilla, counter-insurgency, counter-intelligence, counter-terrorism, force protection, counter-drug and Low Intensity Conflict (LIC) intelligence. His work has ranged from supervising a unit in Panama of 75 active duty personnel preparing for Invasion of Panama to serving as a military analyst assigned to the United States Custom and Border Protection (USBP) working alone in a trailer in the hill country on the U.S./Mexican border. Intelligence targets included drug traffickers, guerrillas, insurgents, foreign intelligence services, the Panamanian Defense Force, and organized and white-collar crime.

He had hands-on experience in investigations, planning, surveillance, interrogation/interviewing, producing flow charts, target folders, timelines, trend/pattern analysis, personality/psychological profiles and writing/supervising tactical, counter drug, counterintelligence and deception operations. Also, liaison and operational experience with federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies and defense contractor engineers. And, experienced briefing flag rank officers, policymakers and senior political officials.

His favorite past times were jogging and oil painting.

Survivors include three sons, David G. Pratt of Prescott, Ariz., Jeffrey B. Pratt of San Francisco and James S. (wife Karen) Nicholson of Round Rock, Tex.; two brothers, Robert R. and William J. (deceased) and five grandchildren. His late wife was the former Betty Jo Williams Pratt, who died in 2011.   

Graveside services with full military honors will be held at Arlington National Cemetery within the next few weeks.


Jim was a member of the Larry Pusey Scholarship committee which was formed to honor Gloucester City High School alumnus Larry Pusey, an outstanding GHS football player. For 10 years the committee presented a scholarship to a player from both Gloucester High and Gloucester Catholic who exemplified Pusey's character both on and off the field. Pusey passed away at the age of 35. Pictured (l. - r.) Marty Sherry, Gary Marcucci, Joe Murphy, Stella Pusey, Bill Tourtual, Bob Bevan, Irv Brown, Nicholson. (photo courtesy of Gary Marcucci)


See also:


FRESH AIR Radio Host Terry Gross Interviews Gloucester City Resident Jim Nicholson

'Fresh Air' Remembers 'Philadelphia Daily News' Obituary Writer Jim Nicholson

US Army Lt. Colonel Jim Nicholson, Not Your Average "GI Joe"

Gloucester City Resident Jim Nicholson wins Life Honor

VIDEO: Remembering Lt. Col. Jim Nicholson: Brave, Brilliant, Modest, and a Hero


CWO James W. "Nick" Nicholson, USMC, (Ret.), 80, Gloucester City


Albie Brant, Builder of South Jersey Malls and Florida High Risers

Stanley Booth Retired Gloucester High Teacher

'Billy Boy' Brandt Retired Gloucester City Patrolman

Irvin G. Brown Jr., Retired E.I. Dupont Employee;

Harry J. Blymer, Longtime Member of Gloucester City American Legion 

Lifetime Friends Harry Blymer and Joe DiGiacomo Die Within 24-Hours of Each Other

George F. Cleary Jr Letter Carrier, Army Security

Jim Coppola, a Great Guy who Enjoyed Life to the Fullest

Joyce R. Countiss, Past West Chester College Professor; GHS Alumnus

Joseph L. DiFelice, of Gloucester City; Retired Teamster

Vince "Jock" DiGiacomo, former Gloucester City Resident Succumbs to Cancer

Skip Grandizio, Army Veteran, Iron Worker, Past City Resident

Memorial Service Saturday for Laraine Stiles Flynn

Pat Gerber
, of Gloucester City; Member of St. Mary Parish

Gary Gross Sr., Owner of ECarol Insulators

Thomas P. Graham of BROOKLAWN, age 60

Joseph "Mongo" Montgomery, age 72, of Woodbury

Dorothy Alfreda Martz, of Brooklawn, Retired School Bus Driver

Tom "Choo-Choo" Murphy Succumbs

Chalie Pitzo, of Bellmawr, formerly of Gloucester City

Robert Raymond "Reds" Richards

Edward R. Pirrotta, Rams Alumnus, Retired Teacher


Bill "The Worm" Seddon Age 72

Claudia Sherry, A Loving Wife, Mother and Friend

Evan W. Taylor, Age 75, formerly of Gloucester City; GHS Class of 1962

Thomas J. Tedesco, Sr. of Gloucester City; US Army Veteran

Chalie Tourtual of Brooklawn, Served in the National Guard

Harry R. Walker Sr., of Brooklawn Succumbs 

Robert W. Weichmann of Brooklawn; Star Basketball Player

Bill "Wibby" Yeager, Formerly of Gloucester City, GHS Alumnus


The Building May Be Gone, But The Memories Linger On