James “Jim” Critchlow, former senior US government insider of Soviet Affairs, with a specialty in Central Asia, died peacefully on Sunday July 7 at his home in Newburyport, MA, two days before his 93rd birthday.
In 1986, as he neared retirement, while he and his late wife Pat were searching for a home in Newburyport, Jim wrote, “ I had a magic glimpse of blue water at the end of Green St. as I was driving on High St. toward NH. I was hooked and called a realtor.”
Shortly thereafter Jim became a founding member of the Committee for Open Waterfront (COW) and continued to work tirelessly to insure that Newburyport’s central waterfront remains forever open, devoid of buildings and other forms of development, with free access to all.
From their dock on the Merrimack River, Jim and Patty, his wife of the last 22 years, frequently sailed to Gloucester and several ports on the Maine coast, always welcomed home by their beloved cats.
Jim was an active member in the weekly meeting of the conversational German group at the Newburyport Senior Center. It was a highlight of his week to speak one of the three foundational languages of his career – German, Russian and French.
A 1948 graduate of MIT, Jim learned Russian, moved to Munich and helped establish Radio Liberty (RL), a short wave radio station that beamed broadcasts from Germany to the Soviet Union. On their fifth day on the air, with minimal transmission expertise and no validation that their transmissions were received, RL was the first to broadcast news inside the Soviet Union of Stalin’s death and the subsequent political turmoils. “Over the next year and a half, RL added Ukrainian, Belarusian, and 15 other local languages of the Soviet Union to its broadcasting repertoire, to provide balanced news and information to a diverse audience that was otherwise restricted to state-controlled media under the Soviet government’s strict censorship regime.”*
Jim remained in various positions with RL for 20 years, then continued his career working with the United States Information Agency (USIA) in Washington, DC as the Chief of Soviet and Eastern European Research. His last formal position was as Planning and Research officer with the Board for International Broadcasting (BIB) which oversaw the financing and operation of broadcast stations (Radio Liberty (RL), Radio Free Europe (RFE) and Voice of America (VOA) formerly funded by the CIA. After retirement he continued his work as a fellow with the Harvard University’s Russian Research Center, now called the Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies. From his vantage point as a Cold War warrior, he was sought out for his expertise and insights during the post-Cold War era.
Jim was the author of two books. Nationalism in Uzbekistan: A Soviet Republic’s Road to Sovereignty, West View Press, 1991, and a lively memoir of his years at RL. Radio Liberty: Radio Hole in the Head, American University Press, 1995.
Jim leaves his wife Patty Patch Critchlow, his daughters Ann Onanian and Jane Critchlow, and his granddaughter Alanna Onanian.
*(Every Story That We Covered was a Test, James Critchlow interview for RFE/RL, 2018)
A gathering in Jim’s memory will be held at his home, later this summer. The Twomey, LeBlanc, & Conte Funeral Home 193 High St. Newburyport, MA 01950 is assisting Mr. Critchlow’s family with his funeral arrangements.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made in Jim’s name to: Committee for an Open Waterfront, (C.O.W.) PO Box 1182, Newburyport, MA 01950.