School 13

James Corcoran

August 11, 1953 ~ October 27, 2021 (age 68)







Corcoran, James of Dedham; formerly of Casselton and Fargo, North Dakota. Jim, a beloved professor at Simmons University for 35 years, passed away peacefully on October 27, 2021. For the complete obituary, go to Service of remembrance to be held on Sunday, December 5th at 1:00 p.m. at Simmons University, Main College Building, Room A-152, 300 The Fenway, Boston, MA 02115. Donations in Jim’s memory may be made to the James P. Corcoran Scholarship in Communications fund at Simmons University. The link is https// Donation by check should be made out to Simmons University, Office of Advancement, 300 The Fenway, Boston, MA 02115. Please note the James Corcoran Fund in the memo line.

James Corcoran received the best gift a journalist could possibly receive the day he graduated from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University with a master’s degree in public administration in 1986: his first book contract.


As a reporter for the The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, North Dakota’s largest  newspaper, Jim wrote a Pulitzer Prize-nominated series of articles on Gordon Kahl, a leading member of the right-wing group Posse Comitatus. Kahl was a farmer, a decorated Korean war hero, and a grandfather. He was also a sharp-shooting tax evader who murdered two federal marshals during a confrontation near Medina, North Dakota, in 1983. Jim grew up in nearby Casselton, and Kahl’s life provided a window into the White supremacy angst percolating in the Plains. Jim’s Kennedy School adviser encouraged him to turn the articles into a book.


Seven years later, Viking published Bitter Harvest: Gordon Kahl and the Posse Comitatus: Murder in the Heartland. On the day of publication, Casselton’s mayor   proclaimed May 29, 1990 “Jim Corcoran Day.” Reviewers called the book “A haunting portrait of the netherworld of extremism.” It touched such a nerve among extremists that Jim received threats from the Ku Klux Klan. Thirty-one years later, it remains a touchstone chronicling the dangers of domestic terrorism. The book also gave Jim a delightful Hollywood moment. It became the basis for the made-for-television movie, In the Line of Duty: Manhunt in the Dakotas, starring Rod Steiger and Michael Gross. Jim appeared in a cameo as a sheriff slapping handcuffs on Gordon Kahl’s wife.


James Patrick Corcoran died October 27 at his home in Dedham. The cause was neck cancer. He was 68. Jim, often known as “Corky,” was born August 11, 1953 in Moorhead, Minnesota. His father, Kenneth Muir Corcoran, worked as a railroad carpenter. Jim’s mother, Brenda (Kettle) Corcoran, a homemaker, was originally from Wales.


At age 11, Jim published his first book. It was a 35–page, handwritten effort called The History of World War II. It cost 25 cents. He actually sold some copies, but ceased publication when writer’s cramp set in. Jim graduated from Central Cass High School in 1971. Believing he would be drafted to Vietnam, he traveled around Europe for a year. Upon his return, he enrolled at the University of North Dakota, where he excelled at playing second base for the baseball team.


Jim’s  journalism career began when he edited the school’s newspaper while earning a bachelor’s degree in journalism and political science. After graduation, he took a job at The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead. During his 10 years as an award-winning investigative reporter at The Forum, and as a stringer/correspondent for Newsweek, he authored more than 1,500 news and feature stories.


In 1985, a Bush Foundation Fellowship led Jim east to the Kennedy School to continue his education. With the convergence of graduation and his book contract, he needed a job to support his writing. He applied for and accepted a one-year writing instructor’s position in the communications department at Simmons University, a college in Boston’s Fenway neighborhood. That one year became a 35-year career that ended with Jim’s retirement and was appointment as an Associate Professor Emeritus.


At Simmons, passion, enthusiasm, and integrity infused Jim’s teaching and his interactions with colleagues. His disarming smile often smoothed his words when he asked students for one more re-write. Former student Elizabeth Carr, who worked for several years at The Boston Globe, remembers Jim as “ruthless in his editing.” Carr notes Jim’s mantra: “The simplest language is always the best way to explain complex ideas,” and that he “made me truly understand what my voice could do.” Current student Isabelle Indelicato says Jim “taught me how to think critically, be curious, and write with integrity.”


Jim chaired the communications department for 17 years, teaching classes on journalism, feature writing, opinion writing, the media, the Fifth Amendment, always imploring his students to understand the power of the pen. When Jim was promoted to Professor, colleague Bob White noted “It is time to reward him for the fire in his eyes and the lightning that God put in his spirit.”


Jim served as an adviser to the student newspaper, revamped the journalism program, and established the university’s internet radio station, The Shark, among other accomplishments. Jim put his own pen back to work after the Oklahoma City bombing, charting the rise of home-grown, right-wing hate groups in Gathering Storm: America’s Militia Threat, co-written with Morris Dees, the founder of the Southern Poverty Law Center. That made Jim a media go-to for comments on such groups and the United Nations listed him on its “Roster of Experts on Terrorism and Related Phenomena.”  


Jim met his wife, Carolyn Shute, a double alumnae and former employee of Simmons, in 1995. The two married in 2008. One thing Jim was proudest of in his life was shepherding Carolyn through her double-lung transplant in 2014. 


When not teaching, Jim enjoyed reading history and politics, devoured thrillers and mysteries, solved crossword puzzles with gusto–in ink!, played a pretty good game of golf, and enthusiastically cooked anything that was made with ground beef: meatloaf, meatballs, shepherd’s pie, chili, and hamburgers. He was an avid–and usually long-suffering–fan of Minnesota Twins baseball and Minnesota Vikings football.


Jim loved summer trips to Prince Edward Island, hoped to golf in the southwest, see Portugal, and revisit France. Most of all, he loved to linger around the dinner table with good friends and good wine, passionately discussing politics or the issues of the day, voice booming and expressive hands flying. He exuded optimism despite his terminal diagnosis.



Jim followed Mary Oliver’s “Instructions for Living a Life” when the poet advises “pay attention/be astonished/tell about it.” Jim’s curiosity and gifts as a storyteller shaped his journalistic practice, animated his classroom, and won the allegiance of colleagues and earned many friends.


Jim was pre-deceased by his father, Kenneth (Muir) Corcoran. He is survived by his wife Carolyn Shute, whom he considered his greatest blessing; his mother Brenda Corcoran; sisters Kathy (Kenneth) Tolzman; Francie (Robert) Albaugh; Jeanne (Michael) Shannon; Pam (Jarett) Gregerson; and brother John Corcoran. He also leaves his sister-in-law Susan Shute Crowe, brother-in-law Richard (Lorna) Shute, eight nephews and five nieces, and many friends who became extended family.



A Celebration of Life is being planned for the first weekend in December. More information to come when available.


Contributions in Jim’s memory may be made to The James P. Corcoran Scholarship in Communications at Simmons University. The link is:


Checks should be made out to Simmons College; “The Jim Corcoran Fund” must be noted in the memo. Mail to Simmons College, Office of Advancement, 300 The Fenway, Boston, MA 02115.







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