Jim was one of my many bosses and my friend. He died this past Wednesday morning from cancer. I say cancer generally because by the time it was over, it felt like the cancer had ridden into most of his body. But it was technically the brain cancer that finally won a battle after Jim won in so many other battles with the beast in other parts of his body.
He never seemed to mind it. Because that was Jim. Jim wasn’t stoic about it or anything really. He was just full of life and always willing to find the laughter, no matter how bad the diagnosis or how shitty he felt. And he did feel shitty. He was originally diagnosed with kidney cancer and I believe it was already at stage 4. He just took that news and took the treatments and kept coming to work. Invited his grandkids over to shave his head and made a party out of it.
Because Jim loved a party. He was functioning alcoholic, claimed the fact as a matter of course and never showed the slightest shame over it. He was by all accounts a rollicking drunk. That lack of shame was a revelation to me. In my family alcoholism was shame personified. It was watching him that showed me that a huge part of the destructiveness of the disease in my family was the shame.
I don’t think anyone ever met Jim and didn’t immediately like him. He was the campfire the rest of us were sitting around, enjoying the glow of his energy and joy. He had a story for every occasion, many of them off color but not offensively so. All of them bubbling with laughter.
When he loved you, you knew it. He had a blazing insult battery that he aimed at those men he was fondest of. He worked with his best friend running the day to day operations of the company. You could not walk into the workspace without getting caught in insult crossfire. But he was equally protective of his best friend, sending emails asking why his BF was taking calls and answering group emails… ie doing the work the rest of us were responsible for. And he tempered his insults for the audience. He knew I was mental mess, and so he always adjusted for me. He made active efforts not to startle me – which is so easy to do and many people do it deliberately just for the comic effect. That small act of consideration is why I know the depth of his kindness. So few people think it’s worth noting except as a joke.
My greatest respect for a co-worker is if they do their job well. Jim was very good at his job. He was good at bringing in business, at building relationships with organizations that would bring us strong loyalty from them. He was fair about distributing the work he drummed up to the reservations team, because when he got us work, it was often large, and the time involved in entering reservations was not inconsiderable. He could easily have focused his attention on the 2 or 3 most experienced and reliable reservationist. But he spread it, but still judiciously handed his biggest and most complicated jobs to his most trusted reservationist. In my opinion, that is wise management. Don’t overwhelm your best with all your work, but pick out the “can’t go wrong” work for them.
Jim lived his life as the spark of energy in every interaction. He cared and it showed. No one met him and didn’t like him. Those kinds of people are so rare, it feels like we need to provide extra protection to them. But the universe decided it had gifted us long enough with his loving insults and his hilarious stories and just ripped him away. And didn’t even do it kindly. I hate that he isn’t here any more. I just hate it.