My friend Jim lived a big life. All 91 years of it.
After he peacefully passed last December, his daughter solicited stories about her father. Numerous times she had urged him to write about his forays into journalism, parachuting, the aviation industry, and film industry. But Jim never got around to it.
Whether we’ve lived a life that has spanned industries, coasts and countries or a life rooted in one city or state, the generations that succeed us will wonder about us. It’s an innate part of being human.
Fortunately, modern day technology is ripe with ways to help us make our past permanent. Voice memos, videos, word documents – whatever your modus operandi of communication, you can bet it’s ready and waiting for you to use. You don’t have to create a tome or hours of video. Even two pages or ten minutes will do.
After you record your stories, stash these gems next to your will, estate plan, and other vital documents. You can rest assured they will be treasured for decades to come.
Regarding Jim, I contributed the following piece to his memory. It’s my honor to share it with you not only to honor Jim, but to encourage you to leave a legacy of experiences for your kin. You never know whom they will inspire, encourage or reassure.
I met Jim in 2007 at a writer’s conference near Tubac, AZ. Or was it 2006? Jim would know, because he remembered dates better than anyone I’ve ever met. His memoir, Alzheimer’s: Medical Science and Families are Still Asking WHY? A had recently been published, and he wanted to learn about book marketing and publicity. I was teaching the class. A few weeks later, Jim hired me to help promote his book about the twelve years he spent caring for his wife who suffered from Alzheimer’s. It was sometime in early September, or maybe October. Jim would remember.
As part of the publicity campaign, I asked Jim to write a series of short articles about Alzheimer’s so that I could place them in newspapers and magazines around the country. He wrote, his friend Carol created word documents, and I received impeccable copy. To this date, he’s still the only client whose work did not need editing. Ever. I pitched the articles around, and they were well received and appeared in various publications. Jim and Carol compiled the eight articles into a booklet. I still think there’s a place for that booklet someplace in the realm of Alzheimer literature.
During the campaign and then regularly after it ended, Jim and I occasionally met for lunch, usually at the Arizona Inn in Tucson. He would drive up from Green Valley, meet me with a smile and hug in the lobby at 11:30, and we would go to his reserved table in the back room by the window where the geraniums bloomed on the other side of the glass. This is where I came to know Jim Greenwood.
I learned that early on along in his illustrious career path, he landed a job for a newspaper in Florida. He was the journalist who scavenged leads so that he could show up first at a scene. One of his contacts was the town Mafioso. Some years later, he summoned the courage to approach the big guy for a loan to buy his first plane. Jim asked for five hundred. The big guy said that was a lot of money. Jim said, well sir, he didn’t think it was that much. The first check that was handed to him was for $500,000. Jim explained that he only needed the loan for $500.
Over Caesar salad and shrimp salads, Jim related stories about skydiving. I asked if his chute had ever not opened. Almost, he said, but at the last moment, as he hurled toward the ground it did. During another jump, the wind blew him off course, and he ended up landing behind a restaurant. The startled patrons came running out. “Greenwood,” one yelled, “what the hell are you doing here?” It was his boss at the time. “Don’t do it again.” The following Monday, Jim coaxed him into retracting his words. He continued to jump and later wrote books about the history of parachuting.
But prior to newspapers and parachuting, Jim worked as a rep for a manufacturer of women’s formal wear. The job required him to travel around the country, mainly east of the Mississippi, but occasionally cross over into Texas. Sometimes he arrived at a show where the women were modeling and were so pressed for time that he had to help them into the gowns. He hinted that it was very instructional for a young man to have such a job.
When he enlisted in the Navy, he assisted with writing the ship’s daily newspaper. At his commander’s suggestion, he applied for a communications position in Washington DC . I believe he competed with the likes of 2500 applicants, though Jim would know for sure. His vast wealth of talent landed him the job. He drew cartoons and comics, political and otherwise, and penned articles and stories. One time, after Jim and I lunched in Tubac, were turned to his apartment, and I reveled at the published collection from this time in his life.
Then, of course, he went to work for Beech Aircraft and Mrs. Beech, the woman who posted a sun on her door if she was in a good mood and a cloud if she was in a bad mood. Reading between the lines of Jim’s humility, I learned that he could finesse and coax and encourage just about anyone including Mrs. Beech. She was not happy when Bill Lear convinced her trusted advisor to jump aircraft manufacturers.
Not that Mr. Lear was any easier to work for. The first day on the job, some visitors came to the plant, and Lear told Jim to take them on a tour. “But I don’t even know where the john is,” he said. “Greenwood you’re not here to help them take a piss,” said the Mr. Lear. “Just show them the plant.” I imagine the tour went impeccably, with Jim smoothing and soothing.
The first time I ordered an Arnie Palmer ice tea-lemonade drink, Jim told about how, in 1976 while at Gates Learjet, he brainstormed the idea of sending Arnold Palmer on a record breaking around-the-world flight in celebration of the US Bicentennial. The trip was a news breaking success.
Danny Kaye, James Coburn, Jimmy Doolittle – Jim graciously rubbed elbows with the rich and famous. He forever was proud to have served the FAA under the Nixon administration. Jim had so many stories, knew so many people. He was the ultimate publicist and communications manager, a peacemaker, a host, an entertainer, and an eloquent writer.
But most of all, to me, he was dear, devoted friend who talked and listened, who wrote and encouraged me to write, and through it all raised the bar to be a better human being. Those lunches of sitting at the table in corner with the pots of bright flowers peering in the window, Jim eating his soup and cottage cheese and treating me to elegant fares, are treasured memories even though I lost count of how many times we met, lost some of the stories, details and dates.
If Jim were here, I’m sure he could tell you them all.