|Jim's favorite photo with his son after they raced.|
I felt I always thought quickly on my feet until I met Jim. He thought faster than anyone I know. He was almost impossible to beat in an argument, and since starting out as his office manager over 13 years ago, we've had more than a few. While simultaneously adoring him, he could exasperate me to no end. During my tenure at Waterscapes, I have actually quit three times. Each time, he would call me the following day and act like nothing happened. I'd answer my phone and he'd say "Yo, I was thinking, when you come in tomorrow...". He didn't even take my "no's" for an answer. And in the morning, I'd be back.
Jim's zest for life was hard to ignore. He raced in triathlons and skied the mountains of Switzerland, Vermont and Colorado . He coached high school track, and wore a path jogging and biking from the streets of Riverton to the rugged terrain of foreign, exotic lands. Never a smoker, he felt his diagnoses of lung cancer six years ago was a real insult to the healthy lifestyle he so preciously nurtured. When Jim, and his wife Margaret, called me at home to tell me about his diagnoses, I remember standing on my back deck, starring at the moon, stunned. The words, "this is just not fair", kept repeating in my head.
Those five words repeated again Sunday morning when I found out that he lost the battle. In spite of the odds, a part of me kept expecting his 'yes I can' mantra to defeat the prognosis. And it did, for much longer than medical personal predicted. But not longer than those who knew him. I am so grateful to have been part of the last 13 years of his life. There are so many things I'll remember about Jim, especially the side that not everyone got to know.
Both of my sons worked summers for Jim in high school and college. When my youngest son Kyle was seriously injured in a ski accident, he was admitted to Wills Eye Hospital in Philadelphia to have his eye orbit and jaw surgically rebuilt. It was late on Sunday evening and I text Jim on the way to the hospital to tell him why I wouldn't be in the next day. By the time the staff settled Kyle in, it was 11:00 at night. I walked out into the hall to stretch my legs, and found Jim standing there.
When my 40-year marriage ended suddenly and surprisingly (even to me), I initially didn't tell anyone. I guess it was a way of holding on to the normal for a little while longer. I lived less than two miles from the office, but one morning I found myself lost and crying on the side of the road. I keep still, the text conversation that followed. "I'm sorry, but my life is in crises and I can't find my way to the office. I'm lost." How strange that must have been to him. When I left the day before, everything was fine. He responded. "Look up at a street sign and tell me where you are. I will be right there." And he was.
I will remember the many times we were having a conversation through the office walls, when the phone would ring and I would answer only to find that he had unknowingly left and was calling to check in. His quick feet served in so many ways. Just as often, the phone call would involve me getting the wallet he left on his desk to read a credit card number to a gas attendant.
I will miss the many late night job texts that often lasted till one of us fell asleep mid-word. Having 10 years on him, the 'older sister' in me would fuss about him walking around the office barefoot in the summer, which was ironic because I always thought he bought the coolest shoes. Dots were his favorite snack. And he could crunch his way through a Tootsie Roll Pop in seconds. His stick was in the trash before I even had mine unwrapped.
Jim died on Easter Morning. And I must admit, when I found out that he was also born on Easter, I smiled a little. It just seemed fitting since he spent a lifetime convincing most people he could walk on water. All of us will die, but sadly, not all of us really live. Jim O'Donnell lived...every day of his life. And those of us who knew him well, will remember a part of him, every day of ours.