What to do, what to do, a eulogy or a rant? Maybe both but not together. I'll start with the eulogy and if you've gotten this far maybe there was another entry just above to read as well.
James Bates July 26, 1926 - July 1, 2007
Otherwise known as Jim Bates, Mr. Bates, or Jim. Never James and no known or published middle name. If you google Jim Bates all you'll get is some football star/coach and a politician or something along those names but you won't find my Jim Bates, which is truly sad because he did a lot of noteworthy and often wonderful things.
Everybody has their own idea of a person made up of memories, experiences, here-say and who knows what else. Therefore it's safe to assume that for as many people who knew Jim, there will be at least that many ideas. Here's mine:
I met Jim and his wife Marge when I was six years old. We, my family and I, moved East from Kalamazoo, MI in 1970 and had to find a new drop zone so that my parents could continue the delightful and all consuming hobby of throwing your body out of a perfectly good airplane from 3,000 feet and up (I later discovered that there's no such thing as a perfectly good airplane and you're supposed to hold your breath until your altimeter reads at least 1,000 feet). Jim and his wife Marge were founding members of CPI, Connecticut Parachutists Inc. along with other noted members like Dick Barber (who is still currently hanging in there by a shoe string) and Vic Deveau (who is also hanging in there, more or less). Maybe Howie Burling too but my memory's not what it was when I was six.
I remember that Jim was different than the other sky-divers. It seemed that in the seventies the sky-diving community was largely a bit rough around the edges and even if you were smoothed out during the work week, on weekends all your bad habits and language and everything else came to the surface because in sky-diving there just isn't any room for niceties. Unless you were Jim. Now maybe Jim let loose behind closed doors but never in front of me so that's how I remember Jim.
Jim wanted to be a writer. His official obit says he worked for an insurance company. I don't know what that means because it was a big one but maybe he was an underwriter or a claims adjuster. I can picture that. Jim wrote anyway. He wrote books and articles about sky-diving and when nobody would publish his books, he published them. I bought one once. It wasn't very exciting but it sure did tell about the sport.
One of Jim's greatest contributions to the sky-diving world was his archival passions. In addition to publishing a couple of books, Jim was the keeper of the tribal knowledge, at least in as far as where it started and when he stopped. Jim was a judge for a lot longer than he actually participated in the sport. Jim liked to be involved and contribute and never seemed to be intimidated by people who might have thought, if you don't have 10,000 jumps, Dude, get out of my face. Jim had our memories, for a long way back.
I have trouble reconciling the picture above with the man I remember. For starters, he's way too skinny. I suppose that happens when you get old. But the smile, that's all Jim. Jim was nice.
(and there's a lot worse things can be said about a person in a final sentence than that.)