Jim T. James
November 22, 1943 – July 29, 2020
Jim Thomas James died in the early morning hours July 29, 2020. He died sitting in his recliner in his home in San Antonio, TX. Staying in his home and his chair is fundamentally what he wanted. He worked hard to ensure he got what he wanted, but what he wanted were fundamentally simple pleasures. Jim entered the world in rural southwestern Arkansas a few days before Thanksgiving in 1943. When he was 20, the anniversary of his birth became synonymous with the assassination of JFK. He lived through and endured many of the great events of the latter 20th century; those changes, though, never changed his character or his personality. Jim spent much of his childhood in Germany, thanks to his father’s military service. His family returned to the states for good when Jim was 16, and they settled in Lawton, Oklahoma. Jim attended Lawton High School where he met many of his life-long friends. After graduation, he attended Cameron Community college, then went on to Oklahoma State University. His OSU experience resulted in two of the defining moments of his life: He met Doniece, and he joined the ROTC. Jim and Doniece married in September of 1966. Soon after, his number came up. Since he had neither bone spurs nor a father in politics, he went to Vietnam, where, thanks to his ROTC participation, he became a lieutenant and a Forward Observer for the Mighty Ninth regiment. He was wounded in battle in April 1968, taking shrapnel in the abdomen and legs, a few bits of which stayed with him for the rest of his days. The battlefield memories haunted him as well, and like so many of his generation, troubled him in ways he found difficult to express. After recovering physically, he returned home and got to work. His first daughter was born less than a year after he returned home, and he took the civil service exam to continue serving but this time, as a civilian with the Treasury Department as a customs inspector. That job led to his next big adventure. Jim, Doniece, and the infant they called Missy moved to Brownville in 1969, where he spent the next decade asking people crossing the bridge to and from Matamoros, Mexico whether they had anything to declare. A year and a half after baby Teressa joined the family, Jim applied for and got a transfer from Brownsville to San Antonio, where he continued his civil service as a Customs Agent at the San Antonio International Airport. Jim did not lead a glamorous life, nor one of ambition. He was, nonetheless, a man of influence to those who knew him, precisely because he demonstrated tolerance, humor, and integrity every day. Dennis Dauphin, creator of the website dedicated to “The Mighty Ninth” regiment, wrote of Forward Observers: “FOs are also considered to be ‘crazy’ and ‘eccentric’ by their peers, due to their dangerous mission profiles and their usually innate strong sense of independence, dislike for rigid authority and protocol, and general proclivity towards sarcasm, grim humor, and general disregard for rules such as those concerning uniforms, saluting, etc., which many FOs do not believe apply to them in the field. This famous streak of rebelliousness and their high esprit de corps make them a coveted, versatile and dangerous asset to many commanders' arsenals.” This description fit Jim like the proverbial glove. Despite those characteristics, though, he worked a highly regimented job in a uniformed service so he could provide for his family and to create the kind of retirement security that guaranteed he’d be able to stay in his home, in his chair, smoking his cigarettes until the day he died. Perhaps that’s the underlying reason he was so fond of cowboys and the western narrative. That mythology reflects stories of people who did what was needed, even when it was hard but who also showed a determination to live on their own terms and with as little interference as possible. Jim was a geek who loved sci fi and fantasy before it was fashionable. He had no patience for cupidity but treated everyone as an equal. He loved dogs and cats, wordplay, and a good meal. He played guitar, always wondering why he couldn’t find a “magic guitar” like his idols, Waylon Jennings and Johnny Cash. He taught his eldest daughter the high art of bad puns, and his youngest daughter to appreciate the wide-open spaces of the western U.S. He was the pair-bonded life partner of Doniece James, the eldest son of George and Miley James, the much adored big brother to William “Bill” James and Tammy James, the beloved father of Laurissa (“Missy”) James Grinnell and Teressa Lowrance, a cherished father-figure to many of his daughters’ friends, and a well-loved friend to many of his peers and contemporaries.
Saturday, August 8, 2020
Jim T. James
August 5, 2020
In his house, in his chair is how I will always remember him. Every time I came over when we were in high school and college. Every visit when I returned home after moving away. With his gruff voice, dark humor, and understated affection, his presence was a comforting constant.
Sending love and light to all who knew and loved him.