Jim the Painter

Where to begin?

We first met Jim the Painter in 2004, when my husband’s colleague introduced us.

Jim Romaine lived most of his life in Gloversville, N.Y., but, as he told us, 1993 was one winter too much for him and he moved south to Alabama. He often spent the warmer months in the Washington, D.C., area, working as a painter and handyman.

In 2004, he painted our son’s bedroom for little more than a song. We fell in love with him. In 2006, at the age of 76, he painted the exterior of our three-story house, doing things on a ladder that a 20-year-old would find daunting.

I got to know him well in 2006, as he was with us right after our nephew was diagnosed with cancer. He provided a listening ear and a warm heart. After that, we got on his schedule regularly for painting, repair and carpentry projects. He spent Memorial Day weekend of 2009 remodeling my office, and there’s not a day I walk in here that I don’t stop to admire and appreciate his work. He was with us for a while last summer.

We’ve been thinking about Jim a lot lately, as my husband and I struggle awkwardly to paint our kitchen. We have a list of other jobs for him this spring.

Most of all, we’ve been looking forward to seeing Jim again. He’s a special guy. I’ve never seen him without a wide smile on his face, always laughing, and an almost-halo-like glow that radiates about him.

I often overheard Jim conversing with our cats while painting or hammering away; he’d say something, they’d answer him back and he’d laugh hysterically. I didn’t always know what he said; it sometimes began with, “Kittycat, let me tell you,” much like Art Carney in Harry and Tonto.

Jim loved to tell us of recent hang-gliding adventures and about the days when he was in a U.S. President’s honor guard (I can’t recall which president). He talked about his longtime girlfriend, Arvella, and how he looked forward to seeing her after his extended time here. She was wheelchair-bound, so it would have been difficult for her to join him on his trips.

Wednesday night, I suggested to my husband that we call Jim and make sure he was all right after the tornadoes ravished many parts of his state. Before we had a chance to call, we received an e-mail from my husband’s colleague through whom we had met Jim.

Sadly, Jim the Painter did not survive the tornadoes. He had gone in to Arvella’s house to get her, but getting her to safety proved difficult, given her disability. Instead, Jim took her back into the house, which was then swept up in the oncoming tornado.

When rescuers arrived, they saw one of Jim’s hands sticking out from the debris.  The other hand was still clasping the hand of Arvella, who perished alongside him.

It is evident that, at 80 years of age, Jim died as he lived. Humble, loving and using his strong and able body to help others.

I hope it won’t offend my readers to share that my husband used to wonder if Jim was Jesus having come back to live among us. He was just that kind of man. I don’t know if Jim was religious, but he definitely had an aura—of love, gentleness and humility. And, no matter how hard the work, a smile never left his face.

It crushes my soul to think about the end of Jim’s life on Earth. In fact, oddly, I’ve never sobbed so hard for the death of anyone as I did yesterday upon hearing the news. I imagine confidently that he was greeted with the words, “Servant, well done.”

I’ll remember Jim whenever I walk into my beautiful office. I’ll remember his smile. And I’ll keep “Jim the Painter” in my phone forever.

You can read a news account of his heroic final act here, and watch an interview with his daughter, which aired yesterday on his hometown news station.


Filed under Family and Friends, Hearth and Home, In Memoriam, News

12 responses to “Jim the Painter

  1. Marty

    This one really hurt. Jim was such a beautiful man. When my time comes, I will definitely hang out with him.

  2. Jo

    I believe we experience Jesus in many forms. I believe you did. Thanks.

  3. lifeofdeb

    What a wonderful, if sad, story. Thanks for sharing Jim with us. He sounds like one of those people who truly do make a difference in our lives. I am sorry for your loss.

    • Thank you, Deb. I wish everyone could have known him. This has gotten me thinking about so many people who come in and out of our lives, doing their jobs and making the most of what they have. I need to do a better job of appreciating and spotlighting more of these people, before they are gone.

  4. Gina

    Monica that was beautiful tribute to Jim. He was such a nice man and I only hope that they went quickly and somehow found comfort in being together at the end.

  5. Rosemary

    Like all who connected with Jim, we had similar experiences. We went to the beach for a week once while he painted the whole inside of the house. The last paint job he did for me was to paint the outside of my house. It needs to be painted or sided and now I don’t want to touch it because it’s the last of Jim’s work.
    He was a model human who touched so many lives in a quiet simple way.
    We’ll miss him dearly.

  6. Patsy Grady Abrams

    Monica, I have heard you talk about Jim and now I will never get to know him except through you. Your tribute to him was so moving. I don’t even know him and I am very sad.

  7. Sara

    Thank you for writing this Monica. I trust you have sent a copy of this to Pat. I wish I had met this wonderful man.

  8. Ellen

    Ok. You made me cry.

  9. Tom Huppmann

    Jim was my handy-man since 1985. He stayed at my house nearly every
    spring while he did work for all my friends, family, co-workers, and
    anyone else I could find to further his magic. Jim was an old-school
    craftsman and was as “plain-folks” as anyone I have ever met. Jim was
    not just hired help–he was my friend. For the past 25 years, come
    April, there was Jim, up from Alabama, with his smiling toothless grin.
    Nothing ever bothered Jim for long. He had an outlook on life which kept
    him and everyone around him young and full of life. Jim may be gone, but
    he’ll always be a part of everyone he knew.

    • Thanks for your words, Tom. I agree, he may have been 80 but was young and full of life. It seemed that, wherever he was, it felt as though he were part of the family. He will always be a part of us.

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