Tag Archives: memoriam

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.

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

Sargent at peace

Sometimes the smallest and simplest memories are the ones we carry most closely.

Hearing news of the death of Sargent Shriver brings to mind a sweet memory of a moment I’ll never forget.

In 1994, I was volunteering for a friend who was running for the Maryland Senate. One day, I received a call from a colleague, similarly helping a friend of hers who was running for the Maryland House of Delegates. She had come to an event for my friend and was asking me to come to one for hers. She had organized a meet-and-greet function for him in the community and wanted to ensure a good turnout. Would I show up to meet her candidate, Mark Shriver (who, eight years later, ran against my friend in the primary for a House of Representatives seat, but that’s another story altogether).

I told my colleague, no, I couldn’t attend, because my husband was out of town and I had no one with whom I could leave my five-year-old son.

She said, “Bring him,” assuring me the event would be very informal. They’d be serving six-foot subs on paper plates in a recreation hall. “Your son would be welcome.”

On our way there, I explained to my first-grader what we’d be doing. He was no stranger to political events, and I had no doubt he’d behave himself. He had, in fact, once been to the home of Ethel Kennedy, so I tried to make the Kennedy-Shriver connection. I might have even told him that Mark Shriver’s father had run for Vice President of the Unites States in 1972; I can’t recall. Still, I was a little nervous about how others would regard a young child being there.

There was indeed a very good turnout. I introduced us to a few people, met the guest of honor and shook the obligatory number of hands, while tending to my son. Then I got us plates of food and the two of us sat down at an empty table for four, trying to stay out of the way of event supporters and VIPs.

Before long, with plenty of seats open at the surrounding tables, an older couple walked over with their plates and asked if they could sit with us.

“Of course, please join us,” I said, only then noticing they were Eunice and Sargent Shriver, who were there to support their son. The room was filled with voters and potential donors and they chose to sit with us.

What I remember most is how gracious they were with my son. They asked him about school, sports and hobbies, so respectfully and with such interest. They took time to listen to him.

So often, at these kinds of events, the person you are facing is looking over your shoulder, surveying the room  for someone more important to talk to. But for those 20 minutes or so, my son and I were the only people in the room, as far as the Shrivers were concerned.

They’re both gone now. Eunice died in 2009 and Sargent joined her yesterday. My son remembers them only vaguely these 17 years later, but they made a lifelong impression on me.

Rest in peace, gentle souls. You touched millions of lives here on Earth, but I am grateful for the night you touched mine.

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Filed under Family and Friends, In Memoriam, News, Politics