I can picture Jim now as a freshman in Stearns, enthusiastic, energetic, friendly, fun and young ... a memory that's been with me all this time, and which will remain.
Rich Podell '64
Jim and I spent a lot of time together at Amherst -- in the WAMF studios, in the room he shared with John Keene in Pratt, and in our respective fraternity bars. I visited him on the Jersey shore the summer after we graduated, and we spent some time catching up at the one Amherst reunion I attended. We agreed we'd "stay in touch." We never did.
Jim was fun to be with -- he was smart, funny, lively... A kind man with an acerbic sense of humor. I value my memories of the young Jim, and I'm sure his life was full and rewarding for him and his family. His memory enriches me.
One of the great things about being Jim’s friend over almost half a century is that you could let a little time lapse between visits or calls or notes and still pick up right where you left off when you saw or spoke to him next. There was a constancy to his personality, a predilection for taking the long view, and an absence of pettiness – not to mention an unwavering recall of whatever you’d been talking about last and an ability to elicit what was on your mind now. Conversations with Jim were natural and easy and without pretense or competitiveness. I always looked forward to them, but never felt pressure to keep on a timetable of connection.
So I think back to our last correspondence of about a year ago, and realize with some sadness – but no surprise – that he didn’t mention his illness. Jim was frank, yes, and able to talk and joke about anything. But he was also stoic, and he never wanted sympathy, and it was therefore predictable that he’d choose to fight his biggest battles without fanfare.
What makes me feel better is that the last occasion we really did spend time together was, I’m pretty sure, one of the happiest of his life. (I take no credit, by the way.) His sensational daughter Key was marrying a tremendous guy in a wonderful ceremony at a spectacular site – on a South Jersey beach, of course – and Jim could not have been prouder. If this weren’t Jim, I’d be tempted to use the word “bubbly” to describe him that day. I know there were more great moments emanating from that day for him – his two grandsons, prominently among them – but I have fixed that day in my own mind, watching the famous Jim German calm being challenged by the joy of that event – and losing, if ever so briefly.
There were other formative times for me with Jim. He led me to a brief but significant taste of bohemian life in Greenwich Village in the ‘60’s. I learned of the folly of university tenure systems. I learned that thoughtful, decent human beings can occasionally work for defense contractors. There was another exhilarating wedding in Jim’s life, his own – to the remarkable Chip, who remained his good friend longer than they remained married, and particularly in the last few years. (I learned at that wedding that best men should probably write out their toasts in advance, unless they’re a lot more extemporaneously funny than I am.) I learned, when we greeted Key together on her return from a stint in Washington, that at least one White House intern found Bill Clinton wholesome and idealistic. I have come to understand that a strong friendship forged in the crucible of fraternity rushing and frat house living and cemented in the challenges of making it as young, would-be adults in the big city will endure for life, at least.
Elsewhere on this page, Key describes her dad with eloquence and insight and sensitivity and perspective far beyond anything I can offer. I’m sure she got those traits from him.
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