As most of those who knew Jim will be aware, he died in June. He had been a member of the Club for many years and was a regular participant at pub meets and rallies, both in this country and abroad. It was typical that when he realised something was wrong while on last Autumn’s Yorkshire rally, he said nothing and his amusing account of the Saturday for last Autumn’s Big End, written in his unique, witty and very readable style, gives no clues. However within a couple of weeks he was in hospital where eventually he was diagnosed with the brain tumour that killed him at the age of only 71.
Tributes to Jim have been many, varied and effusive. What follows is a distillation of merely some of the comments and reflections on his life from many of the people who clearly feel his loss greatly. The extent to which he will be missed shows just how he made his mark.
His knowledge, wit and kindness plus genial demeanour made him excellent company on every occasion and many of us wanted to be like him. A 1600-mile, eight-day, marathon trip to Switzerland with Jim involved not a cross word, nor a tense moment, and he was an excellent navigator too. He appealed to all ages and leaves a legacy of good memories. He was an intelligent and interesting man, with humane understanding and a vast intellect, which he wore lightly. He had the rare ability to listen to the other side of the argument, a friend who’d offer advice but was non-judgmental.
He was knowledgeable and stimulating, always helping to make things relaxed and memorable and fully enjoyed life in his own way. He was one of the nicest, most charming people, decent, open-hearted, thoughtful, always reliable and wonderfully caring, It seems unimaginable that he ever hurt anyone. Time spent with Jim and his wicked sense of humour involved incalculable joy.
Most of Jim’s upbringing and working life were spent in Mid-Wales, which he loved. Jim’s mother, the daughter of an Archdeacon, was ‘finished’ in Switzerland and, unlike her son, had her coming out in the old-fashioned sense, at Buckingham Palace. However Jim was never pompous or grand.
No doubt because of the prevailing attitudes of those days, especially towards someone working with children, in Wales he felt obliged to keep his sexuality hidden from all but a tiny few though, typical of him, he had no regrets about that and said it meant he missed the really dangerous days of the 1980s. However when, in his late 40’s, health issues dictated an early retirement, he had the courage to make a sea change.
He moved to London and unleashed himself on gay society with a vengeance, as we learned at his funeral which he had directed should provide a “warts and all” account of his life. His aim, which he seemed to have achieved, was to try absolutely everything, even if, in some cases, only once.
He was a man of many parts, not all known to any single individual – Headmaster, schools inspector, website designer, potter, thespian, private pilot, sailor, intercontinental traveller, raconteur, polymath, epicure. He was an avid photographer going back to his school days, where it gave him an excuse to photograph the rugby team. Many memorable images created by him can be seen on his Flickr site https://www.flickr.com/photos/camden_ursus .
He loved architecture, especially that of Venice, wine and good food. He ate out and well virtually every day and never shied away from a good lunch, though he was no cook. He spent his last 20-odd years living in a flat in Camden Town where the oven was never used except to dry orange peel for use in cocktails. He once invited me to join him for afternoon tea and then asked what type of tea I liked, “red, white or rose?”
Cars were also a passion, of course. On his 17th birthday Jim passed both his motorcycle and car driving tests. He had numerous cars in his time and wrote an article about them for Big End some years ago. They ranged from three-wheeler bubble to Bentley via Fiat 500, Mini, Beetle, MGBs and many others, plus a motorbike, culminating in the Mercedes 230CE, always referred to as “the blessed Benz”.
It may be difficult for those who knew him only in later life to realise that he had been something of a tearaway. In his younger days particularly, he had a cavalier attitude towards parking tickets and was an advocate of power parking. As he put it, “why else are they called bumpers?” The affable, laid back, slow-paced pedestrian would change into the would-be F1 driver, albeit a safe and careful one. When he had the Isetta three-wheeler, he used to career around the Welsh Highlands intent on turning it over but, fortunately for his passengers, they always arrived upright, if shaken. One of them recently asked that, wherever Jim is now, he saves a space in the corner reserved for the mischief-makers, so the two of them can meet again there soon.
Although he could affect an old buffer persona, Jim always loved the new, experimenting and experiencing the unknown. As an inquisitive and practical-minded boy, he got up to many exploits, including creating drain-pipe launched mortar bombs by ”remanufacturing” fireworks which, when fired from a hill overlooking a sheep pasture, achieved a considerable altitude, then fell silently until detonating just above the unsuspecting sheep.
He was a problem solver and gadget enthusiast, with an instinctive grasp of how things worked. He was also a pragmatist. During a particularly stressful period he created pots specifically for smashing.
After he left Wales he spent five years as a director of a printing software company and also did freelance web design including creating the first website for the pioneering Gay’s the Word bookshop in London.
Rarely anxious or stressed, he never let life get in the way of, often eccentric, fun. If he was not going to be able to make the pub meet at Virginia Water he would always text merely “Miss Otis regrets….”.
He had a fund of outrageous and barely-believable stories in which he was often the butt of the joke. For example Jim was walking through Aberystwyth when a policeman hailed him asking for assistance to apprehend a suspected criminal. Being a man of peace, he didn’t know quite what to do, so he just sat on the suspect. As Jim was much larger then than in later years the suspect could do nothing but remain anchored, uttering words to the effect “Give us a break Guv”.
He always had a twinkle in his eye. When in hospital and having been brought out of a coma, he addressed a nearby medic with the words “Remind me which of the handsome young doctors you are”. His humour was boundless, and never left him either. For example towards the end he said “you’ll all be leaving the EU, but I won’t” and was amused when an email intending to regret he was so poorly wrongly read “Sorry you’re so portly”.
Having organised his affairs in readiness, he approached his death philosophically, with stoicism and courage. The effect the brain tumour had on his speech was a particularly cruel blow for someone like Jim and at times communication became a parlour game with people guessing what he was trying to say. Nevertheless he said he felt lucky and he ended his existence satisfied.
It is not surprising Jim attracted a group of friends who were so loyal and devoted that he was surrounded by an unparalleled source of love and care, a ‘ring of love’. Increasingly disabled, he was still in his own home until only three days before he died, in a hospice. His last seven months were a time of sadness and ultimately tragedy, but they were also a celebration of friendship and of a life well-lived. Jim had the friends he deserved. When our times come, would that we be surrounded by such love and support as Jim was.
What can better sum him up than Jim’s own advice? “It’s a short journey from birth to death. Enjoy it as much as you can, savour the scenery and the people you meet on the way, for it is all that there is.” We certainly enjoyed him immensely. It was a privilege. All of us who knew him have had our lives enriched by the experience and we are all impoverished by his passing. Some people make the sky more beautiful to gaze upon and leave footprints on our hearts. Jim was such a person.
As you would say, Jim – “Toots”. ROBIN EDWARDS.