Some memories and thoughts on Jim’s life prepared for the Wolfeboro Memorial Service:
James, Jim, Jimmy, Jimba, Jimbo, Rug Rat, Dude, Scrapper (Matt Jones), Foley, Brother. Jim was accustomed to the name play and depending on the timing and tone each one conveyed a message without further words. Jim grew up in Wolfeboro in an environment of love and surrounded by friends. We had some great teachers, many of them are in attendance today.
Jim was the smiling, wide-eyed little boy in the class pictures at Carpenter School, the historical trivia whiz at the Granite State Challenge representing Kingswood Regional High School on New Hampshire Public Television. The thoughtful student on the steps of the Capital building during our Close-Up trip to Washington D.C. Ms. Bailey’s snazzy prom date in the Piehl’s convertible, sporting an out-dated baby blue tuxedo.
Jim played four years of soccer at Kingswood. We were coached by the original Italian Stallion Mike Pierro. A former Navy SEAL and Vietnam war veteran. Coach Pierro made quite an impression on a group of teenage boys. He once dropped off a log weighing roughly a ton at the edge of the field and had us hoist it overhead and run it around the complex. After sprints he would huddle us up on the embankment and talk about his military days and the experience of being a SEAL.
I can close my eyes and see the opposing team’s center forward streaking toward the goal with Jim as the last line of defense. Pierro is racing down the sideline screaming, “Jimmy boy get down like a cat!” Jim thrived off the team camaraderie. He was always in the middle of the action.
To read stories from his Teach America days from past students at Lowell Elementary school in Arizona or the respect he garnered while embedded with the men of ABLE CO 2/503 in Afghanistan was a testament to the bonds he formed.
Jim always had a knack for reading people. He was a student of human nature and as friends have pointed out, he could blend into any group or situation. The wonderful thing about Jim is that he used the ability to build people up and not tear them down. Whether you knew him for thirty years or thirty minutes you would consider him a friend.
There seemed to be two absolutes in Jim’s life: His Faith and his Family. Both of which gave him an incredible foundation. It was a well of strength and courage for Jim in his time of need. It was also the source of his compassion for others, his selflessness and humility. With exception to faith and family there were no absolutes, no black or white or quick fixes. He saw the shades and complexity in everyone and it showed in the struggles he captured on film and in his writing. He was more than tolerant of other beliefs; he was open, honest and authentic. He didn’t pretend to have the answers; his Twitter description says it all “lots of questions…no answers.”
I never fully appreciated the extent of Jim’s faith until we took a post-Marquette graduation road trip out west with another friend Brian Oakes. Jim had a small band on his wrist that he used as a symbol of his faith. I never questioned how or why he used it but it was noticeable and something that stuck with me long after the trip.
Also during that road trip we made a quick stop at the Hoover dam to take a few photos and I noticed Jim was standing out on a rock precipice 900 feet above the Colarado river. I remember trying to scold him and he calmly stood at the edge and gave me the classic Foley response, “settle down there Jermster’s, settle down”.
I was reading through old messages from Jim back in 2008 after he completed his degree in journalism. He was looking forward to beginning his new career. It became his calling. He identified with people in conflict zones, their hardships and their isolation from the mainstream media…it also aligned with his need to help others. Sometimes it is difficult for others to comprehend why he would go back to a conflict zone. If your perspective looks at the world through a zoom lens you tend to focus on what is right in front of you. Jim’s perspective was more of the macro style with big, wide angles and no filters.
The last time our family saw Jim was new years eve 2011 after he came back from captivity in Libya and then again several days later we went to a basketball game together with a mutual friend, Katie Ling. Jim showed up in the middle of dinner with that big toothy grin. He played a round of Sequence with our daughters and later in the week enjoyed the high flying dunks. Jim said all of the things we wanted to hear to put us at ease, and he was genuinely grateful for the love, prayers, and support during his time in captivity. You also noticed there was an underlying current of restlessness to Jim where you knew he wouldn’t be staying for long. There probably was not a single person in his life that didn’t want him to stay and settle down but his passion was so authentic, he unknowingly made you feel selfish for even thinking it.
Jim’s sacrifice has been crippling to bear and in the darkest moments when things get rough you picture him; some foolish moment or some adventure and you can’t help but laugh and feel his presence. I will always choose to remember the childhood memories, see the strength of his family, witness the faith and love that drowns out extremism, intolerance and hate. Jim will live on in our hearts and minds and his legacy will carry on in our children. Love you, Jim.