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Remembering Jim "Rabbi" Wright

Ned Groth, Winter 2019

(Author’s note: This biographical remembrance was difficult to write. First, I had too much material, having kept in close touch with Jim for over 50 years. I had yearbooks, all our Class of '62 newsletters, almost 100 private letters and holiday newsletters from Jim and his family, dozens of conversations over the years, encounters at reunions and on numerous other occasions, my own recollections, anecdotes from classmates and others, and on and on. I had to focus down, and ultimately I chose to write primarily about what he meant to us as a Darrow class. Second, I offered Jim's family a chance to review an early draft, and they contributed both additional material and suggested changes, adding wonderful details and enhancing accuracy but complicating the effort compared to my standard single-author approach. I thank them profoundly for that collaboration. My goal here, as always, has been to create an honest and loving portrait of our former chaplain/teacher/coach, as we knew him. While I’ve striven for factual accuracy, I take full responsibility for any errors. This remembrance can be amended, if need be, as others contribute their own memories to it.  –NG)

Description: C:\Users\Ned\Desktop\Wright Memorial\Rabbi 3.jpegTo appreciate the effect Jim's arrival at Darrow as chaplain in the fall of 1959 had on us, his students, we need to step back a bit and recall what Darrow was like before Jim arrived. It was a patriarchal fiefdom, ruled benevolently by Lamb Heyniger and a council of elders, Charles Brodhead, Jack Van Vorst, Harry Mahnken. Serving them were mostly younger but generally well seasoned faculty. Our chaplain freshman year, Guthrie Speers, one of the nicest gentlemen we'd ever met, fit right into the grandfatherly, twilight-of-his career mold. Darrow was non-denominational, but we used the Episcopalian Book of Common Prayer and Hymnal in the chapel. Guthrie, a Presbyterian, effortlessly delivered generic plain-vanilla Protestantism from the pulpit, and bland Sunday-school-like lessons in required religious education courses. And other than provide an avuncular presence in the dining hall, that was all Dr. (and Mrs.) Speers were expected to do. They had no dorm duty, no coaching assignments, they just tended lightly to our spiritual needs. In fact, Dr. Speers had been pried out of retirement in 1958 by Mr. Heyniger—they were track teammates at Princeton—who suddenly found the school with no chaplain; Guthrie agreed to serve just a year, while Lamb found a longer-term hire.

Description: C:\Users\Ned\Desktop\Wright Memorial\Photos\Sarah & Jim & baby Debby.jpgJim was that new hire. When he arrived in the fall of 1959, he had just earned his M.Div. that spring from Western Theological Seminary in Pittsburgh. Like Guthrie, Jim was Presbyterian, but the resemblance pretty much ended there. He was young (25), not that much older than we were. He was energetic and athletic. He happily coached soccer and baseball, got down-and-dirty at Hands to Work each Wednesday. He had a wife, Sarah (nee Shaw), and the faculty apartments in dorms that could accommodate a married couple were all spoken for, so the Wrights were put in the Shaker Schoolhouse, across the road from Brethren's Workshop, and thus, they had no dorm duties. The photo is in their residence in autumn 1960, with Deborah, born that summer, and their pet beagle, Mr. Chips (aka Chip). Everyone at Darrow is involved in many slices of school life, and Deborah and Chip are tagged as "team mascots" for the JV soccer squad in the 1961 yearbook.

Jim was also a new kind of chaplain for Darrow in other ways. He was brash, outspoken, rarely would he not tell you what he really thought. He seemed more inclined to raise questions than offer answers. He didn't talk about "God" very much, but was determined to show us how fascinating the historical and philosophical aspects of religion were. He aimed to be (intellectually) provocative and unpredictable. In many ways, he was a breath of fresh air.

Not everyone saw it that way, and not all of his efforts were successful. He told me years later that a certain element of the faculty (spoken for by a somewhat pompous senior English teacher whom we need not name here) favored a more formal, traditional form of worship and objected to the way Jim conducted chapel services. As chaplain, he had the sad duty, in late October of his second year, of telling the school that Mr. Heyniger had succumbed to cancer.  A few other stories stand out for me.

First, why did we call him "Rabbi?" Boys in those days gave faculty members nicknames, not all of them respectful. Charles Brodhead was "Bagels," for some fuzzy historic reason. Larz Anderson was "Stubby" because of his (lack of) height. It was probably only a couple of weeks into the fall term before a few of us started calling Jim "Rabbi." Mostly it combined his role as the religious leader of the community with an irresistible alliteration. But even back then, some of us worried that it might not be politically correct to hang a Jewish job title on a Presbyterian chaplain (lest we offend the Jewish kids). So, we asked Jim, would it be inappropriate for us to call him that? He laughed and said, "Rabbi means 'teacher' in Hebrew. It's perfect, I love it." So from then on, he was Rabbi Wright.
Description: C:\Users\Ned\Desktop\Wright Memorial\Hebrew Club.jpgOur memorial for John Spencer tells of John's fiancée Diana's public spat with her plutocrat father over her trust fund. Somehow, Jim found himself in the middle of that. As two young couples on the faculty (one married, one engaged) Jim and Sarah had become friends with John and Di, and when she was attacked publicly by her father (for having the temerity to refuse to give her inheritance to Princeton so that he could keep his multi-million-dollar pledge), she turned to Jim for advice, partly as a friend, partly as the only available clergyman at the moment. He swore all he said was "follow your conscience," but when her conscience said "Say no to Daddy," Shelby (Daddy) lashed out. He called the school to demand that Jim be fired for encouraging his daughter's folly. Charles Brodhead, then Acting Head, was not one to be bullied and knew the value of a good chaplain. He told Shelby to get lost, or as close as Charles could bring himself to uttering words to that effect. But Jim sweated it out for a while.   

Early in our junior year, Jim confronted the fact that our required religious education classes were boring. He hoped to make things a bit more interesting by teaching (some of) us to read the Old Testament in Hebrew; he had done that in seminary and enjoyed it immensely, so it stood to reason that we would too. A Biblical Hebrew Club was formed (photo) as an extracurricular activity, and a bunch of us were invited to join. We soon became proud owners of a Hebrew bible, (i.e., the Old Testament), the size of an unabridged dictionary, which Jim had bought in bulk for us. We met a few times up at the Wright's home, and never got through Genesis 1. All I can remember is "Bereshit bara Elohim, et hamayim hashamayim" (and I'm not even confident that's correct). I'm pretty sure Sarah made us cookies and hot chocolate, so we did get something useful out of it. It did not take Jim long to realize that this probably had not been the greatest idea, and we abandoned the effort (but the photo for the yearbook had already been taken!) I think I sold that bible for 50 cents or so at a yard sale when I was in grad school.

So, we were left with our regular religious education classes. Peter Gorday remembers being interested in the material and writing a paper on the Apocrypha, which later became (I believe) the topic for his doctoral dissertation in divinity school. Perhaps the seeds of P.J.'s own calling to the ministry were sown in that class. Me, I was more tuned out. I remember nothing about the material we were taught, but I do have two very distinct memories of the class itself.

I was pretty much a goody-goody and got almost no penalty hours in my four years at Darrow, but I got thrown out of class twice. Once it was for knowing a bit more about a historical figure than Mr. Spencer wanted to discuss (see that memorial). The other time, I got tossed by the Rabbi. Did I mention that his class was boring? Dave Benson and I were playing that game of "football" where you flick a wad of paper across the table toward a goal post the other guy makes with his fingers. We'd wait until Rabbi had his back turned, writing on the board, and flick away. We'd probably done it 20 times before Rabbi turned around at the wrong moment, and I was nailed. He threw me out with obvious glee. "Ejected from class for disturbance!" the pink slip said (compete with "!"), and I was banished to study hall, with three well earned penalty hours in hand. Dave escaped getting caught, so I took one for the team.

The fact that class was boring did not exempt us from having tests and exams, for which I duly studied. One midterm was all multiple-choice and short-answer questions, and I knew when I handed it in that I'd gotten everything right. But when I got the paper back, my grade was "only" 98. Rabbi had checked every answer as correct, but he wrote at the bottom, "-2 points for Original Sin." A little clerical humor. I took my grades very seriously, but forced myself to act amused. (It actually was kinda funny.)

Description: C:\Users\Ned\Desktop\Wright Memorial\Photos\JV Soccer 1960.jpegJim really enjoyed his role as a coach of soccer and baseball. As low man on the totem pole, he got the least glamorous assignments—"B" squad soccer (lower than JV, for minimally ept kids) his first year, JV soccer the next fall (photo here), and JV baseball both years. He relished the idea of coaching us and enthusiastically imbued us with his (and the school's) philosophy that athletics were mostly about getting exercise, developing skills, playing as a team, practicing sportsmanship and having fun, and not about winning. We won our share of games, to be sure, but what I remember most about playing on Jim's teams is the joy he took in our little successes, when we showed we had stepped up a level in skill, when we executed something a little harder than average just like it was drawn up on the blackboard.

Two such memories: One gorgeous October afternoon our JV soccer squad went up to Hoosac for a road game, and everything just clicked. Perhaps it was partly the caliber of the opposition, but we were unstoppable, a well oiled machine. I was playing right forward and on one trip down the field Dave Benson, on the right wing, launched a perfect crossing shot and Bronnie Smith, on the left wing, was in perfect position and headed it perfectly into the goal. Jim was practically doing back flips on the sideline, he was so pleased with us. (No points off for Original Sin there.) The following spring, we were playing a home baseball game against Lenox, and it was a pitchers' duel, tied 1-1 in the bottom of the last inning. We had a man on third, one out, and I was up. I was not much of a hitter at that age, but I had been playing organized baseball since I was 7 or 8, I had sound fundamental skills, and I knew how to bunt. Jim Description: C:\Users\Ned\Desktop\Wright Memorial\Darrow 1.jpgknew that and signaled for a squeeze play. Fast ball down the middle, I laid down a great bunt, jogged to first as the winning run scored. Jim, coaching first base, was jumping up and down and cheering and clapping as I ran toward him. I got a hug from my coach, and a handshake from the Lenox pitcher, who came over to say "Great bunt, nice game." Now, that's what high school sports were supposed to be about.

Many of our classmates have poignant memories of Jim and the ways he taught, coached and counseled us. Here's Dave Griswold: "Gosh, I remember it so well. I had been at Darrow maybe six weeks when Mr. Nunley pulled me out of study hall and took me to the headmaster’s office. I figured I was in trouble--again. But no one was there, just a telephone on a desk. “It’s for you” said Mr. Nunley, and he disappeared. It was my grandmother. I was delighted to hear her voice. “Hi Gramma, will you be joining Mom and Dad at parent’s weekend? I asked. There was a long pause. “David, your Dad died last night.” I was stunned. He had been sick, but I had never contemplated death. Then Rev. Wright appeared. I was in such a state of shock, I don’t think I said five words and honestly, I do not remember what he said. But I recall the moment. There was no drama, no lectures on the meaning of death, or the great beyond. Just a friendly thoughtful man who seemed to care. When I came back to school after the funeral, he would see me from time to time and ask how I was doing, everything OK, do you need anything. Again, not intrusive or preaching but just a friend who I felt was watching from a distance and would intercede if needed. He was a kind man and a good man."

Peter Gorday, whose inclination toward a career in the ministry was nurtured by Jim's teaching (see below), also remembers him as a coach: "My sharpest memories of him from our years at Darrow involve, first, his efforts at coaching the JV soccer and baseball teams. I picture him out on the fields in sweat suit and ball cap (see photo!), encouraging, admonishing, instructing, and otherwise corralling a bunch of boys (athletes and non-athletes) into something resembling a team. He was especially good at hitting fly balls (as I recall) and at ball-passing drills in soccer. I remember him as a great practitioner of the "moral" approach to sports – that is, you were out there to build character, do your best, and not in any way to slack off when the going got tough. I never knew him to be hard on a boy who failed (me!), as long as he really tried (me again, sometimes). And if you did well, he was certainly quick to praise."

P.J. again, this time on Jim's pedagogical influence: "He was my first stimulus to challenging and exciting theological thinking. I had never known anything but haphazard, scattered Sunday School religion before Darrow, and Jim Wright introduced me to something approaching organized spiritual reflection. I remember that he used a paperback anthology entitled "How My Mind Has Changed," a collection of magazine-essays by prominent religious writers. [Note: I believe this was used for the Philosophy and Religion Seminar, not in our regular class--NG] They were good pieces and raised all of the classical questions about the existence of God, justice in the universe, the meaning of "faith," etc. Our discussions were lively, as I recall, and he himself was always questioning and challenging, always pretty free-thinking and unorthodox in his views! Later on, I wrote a paper for him on an esoteric subject that fascinated me at the time – the Apocryphal writings that come between the Old and New Testaments in Anglican versions of the King James Bible – and he gave me high praise, urging me to continue in Biblical studies. That praise took me farther than either he or I could have imagined." [Another note: Peter went to Dartmouth, then after military service, to theological seminary; he became an Episcopal minister, was a parish pastor, worked for a while for the Atlanta diocese, later transitioned into marriage counseling and  therapy—some striking parallels to Jim's own career arc. Like mentor, like student?]

Another of our several Peters, Peter Golden, found Jim's ecumenical outlook beneficial for a different side of his spiritual development: "In my year at Darrow Jim was an occasional, always friendly source of support, the more so because he encouraged my participation in the chapel choir. This was an especially kind gesture in that: 1) I was Jewish and agnostic; 2) I was largely tone deaf; 3) it allowed me to hang around with Deri and Tanner, who both looked great in white and red [choir robes] and sang a lot better than me. But what the hell. When we all launched into "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring," any notion of sectarian difference was transported away on the notes of Bach's ethereal anthem to the prospect of redemption of at least one rather pimply adolescent."
Jim's father (HKW Sr.) taught English at Lawrenceville, and Jim grew up on the campus and graduated from that fine school. As a young man, although his inclinations led him to divinity school, Jim thought he would most likely end up teaching at an independent secondary school, and like his father, perhaps spend his entire career at the same school. But life rarely turns out the way we imagine it will when we're young, and Jim's surely didn't.

Jim spent only two years at Darrow. Many years later, he told me he regretted leaving when he did, and he tried to return a few times by applying (unsuccessfully) for job openings there. He was truly fond of the place, deeply admired Lamb Heyniger and was devastated when he died, and felt uncertain about the future of the school. Plus, he was young, restless, trying to figure out what he wanted to do with his life, and wanted to teach at a coed school. So he moved on, to Cushing Academy. He also left Cushing after two years: The head who had hired him and who was a close friend was abruptly fired by the board for what Jim felt were spurious reasons, and Jim felt he had to resign as a matter of principle. Like the Shakers, Jim kept turning, turning 'til he came 'round right, as we'll see as this story unfolds.

Description: C:\Users\Ned\Desktop\Wright Memorial\Jim & Mr. Rogers.jpgAfter Darrow, I kept in touch with Jim and Sarah, via Christmas cards and the occasional letter. In the summer of 1966, I was moving from New Jersey to California for grad school; by then they were in Pittsburgh, where Jim was the chaplain at Chatham College. I stopped in to visit them (and cadge a free night's food and lodging) on the first night of my journey west. They now had three girls: Deborah (born when they were at Darrow), Rebecca (at Cushing) and Anne (at Chatham). Living in Pittsburgh again (after his time at seminary there), Jim became a devoted Steelers fan, and it was a lifelong affair.

I didn't know this until recently, but Fred Rogers ("Mister Rogers Neighborhood") lived in Pittsburgh, and on Nantucket in summers, and Jim and Sarah were quite literally Fred's neighbors in both places. Jim became Fred's lifelong friend and appeared on the show once, in 1966, where he shared camping tips with Fred and his audience. Whether it was Fred's or just Pittsburgh's influence, Jim also took up Rolling Rock—brewed in Fred's home town of Latrobe, PA—as his favorite beer, another lifelong affair.

In 1968 I started the Class of '62 newsletter, and Jim was one of the regular contributors over the 15 years that the medium lasted. He mixed honest descriptions of his search for a meaningful professional situation with family stories and irreverent humor. For instance, in that 1968 first edition, he had left Chatham (because to teach religion there as he had wanted to, they would have required him to have a PhD) and moved on to the Old Trail School in Akron, Ohio, but he firmly assured us that this did not mean another child was on the way.

Description: C:\Users\Ned\Desktop\Wright Memorial\Darrow 1.jpgAt Old Trail, Jim taught several subjects in the upper school (9-12, girls only), served on the curriculum committee, was head of the upper school for a time, and became an assistant to the headmaster. (The photo is from the 1974 Old Trail yearbook.) At times, Jim felt he would like to be a school head himself one day, but as he moved up the administrative ladder, he found that the closer he got to the top, the more he was becoming a manager and fundraiser, the less a teacher, and the more the job revolved around the Board of Trustees, the less around the students. He did not put it that way then, but he realized he was probably not cut out to be a school head. In 1974, Jim resigned from Old Trail, unsure what he wanted to do instead, but feeling the need for a change. (He may have been prescient, as the school soon completely reinvented itself in ways Jim probably would have found difficult to adjust to.)

Jim searched for a new position in an independent school, but there were very few to be found in northeast Ohio. While job-hunting he stayed active, swimming at the Jewish Community center, playing in an indoor tennis league in winters and on a softball team in summers. He attended multiple "human potential" workshops and learned a lot about group therapy/counseling. He took on several part-time jobs, did some volunteer work, learned to cook, began writing an autobiography, enjoyed the Steelers' championship years. He shared his progress and setbacks each year with us in our Class Newsletters.

With the kids in school, Sarah went to work, and Jim became a self-described house-husband, a bit rudderless, "dabbling," unsure how he wanted to apply his talents. Never one to hide his feelings, he wrote candidly of his frustrations. It was depressing to be taking so long to "get his act together," but as the girls approached college age, Jim needed to find a full-time job. He thought about trying to become a professional counselor or human relations trainer, but he lacked academic credentials for that, so he looked instead for an independent school position. He sent out resumes by the ream but got very few encouraging responses.

I visited with Jim and his family in Akron in 1972 and 1976, passing through en route to somewhere, and in October of 1976, Jim was in DC and stayed overnight with me. I was then newly separated, getting divorced. Jim and I went to a volleyball match (US national men's team vs. China) and talked about "relationship" stuff, male bonding 'til the wee hours. Later that night, Jim was asleep on a convertible sofa in the living room; he had left the sliding door to the porch open for fresh air, but hadn't closed the screen door. A stray cat from the neighborhood snuck in to steal some food and my tomcat ambushed him. A hissing, yowling catfight erupted in the kitchen and was almost immediately augmented with human shrieks of terror from the living room. My cat had chased the invader out through the door he'd come in; one cat went under the bed, the other went over (leaping onto and off of Jim). What a rude awakening, but an unforgettable moment.

Description: C:\Users\Ned\Desktop\Wright Memorial\Photos\Bathing suit cropped.jpgThe 1976 class newsletter was the first with photos; Jim sent us this one. He described a year of professional and personal ups and downs but sent a photo showing him looking relaxed, happy, windblown and sunburned on a beach.

Jim and I stayed in fairly close touch from that point in our lives onward. In fact, one of Jim's more remarkable traits was the large number of people from all quadrants of his life that he not only got to know well but managed to stay in touch with. For those of you (?) who credit astrology, well, we were living in The Age of Aquarius in those years, and Jim was born under that sign. Aquarius is the water-bearer, but it’s also an air sign. We all breathe air and share it, sound waves travel through it, the air element is about human interactions. In ancient days the water bearer would bring you water if you couldn’t go to the well to get it yourself. That person also got around town, knew everybody’s business, shared the news. Jim was all about human interaction and connection, supposedly Aquarius traits. FWTW.

In 1978, Jim's holiday letter said he was "in better spirits than I have been for at least two years." He had a full-time office job, but was returning to the private school world. Jim soon wrote to say had been hired by Becket Academy, in East Haddam, CT, a 4th-12th grade coed school for learning disabled and "mildly emotionally disturbed" kids (it no longer exists). He moved to Connecticut; Sarah kept her job and stayed in Akron. At Becket Jim's work involved marketing and recruiting, a lot of travel, selling the school to prospective parents and others. It was a demanding, full-time job, but he didn't sound very comfortable with it.

Jim left Beckett in the middle of the 1980-81 school year. Around then, after several years of living and working apart, Jim and Sarah agreed, sadly but amicably, to end their marriage.
Description: C:\Users\Ned\Desktop\Wright Memorial\Photos\J&B Wedding, Cropped.jpegIn summer 1981 Jim began working at Christchurch School in rural (Tidewater) Virginia. He taught a couple of courses and also was Director of Admissions—under constant pressure to recruit kids and balance budgets. Jim began dating Barbara Ross, a nurse who worked part-time at the school. They were married in the school chapel on October 1, 1983. Jim's Christmas card that year included this wedding photo, the only picture I have of Barbara.  

I never met her, but Jim's letters mentioned that Barbara's entire family lived in Charlotte. He commented that she was having a hard time adjusting to rural life (Christchurch is really out in the sticks), including being too far from her family. He quipped, "My southern flower hates what she calls the frozen north." But in 1985, the school went through what Jim called "a profound change in its philosophy and approach" that he couldn't abide, so he moved on again. They made the joint but difficult decision to move to Pennington, NJ (near Trenton and Lawrenceville), where Jim took on admissions and development roles at the Pennington School, and Barbara found nursing work in the area. Jim's job was both stressful and unfulfilling; he wanted to teach, coach, interact more with the students. But it had its perks: School trips to France and Italy that Jim and Barbara much enjoyed.

After three years at Pennington, Jim found the situation "intolerable," and in 1988 he accepted a new job at the St. James School, in rural Maryland, as Jim put it, "out in cowflop country." But when he told Barbara of his plan to move there, she informed him he'd be going on his own. Their marriage came to an end, and she moved back south to be closer to her family.

For a few years, the job at St. James seemed almost idyllic. The head was a close friend of Jim's, whom he described as "the best schools man I have ever known" (strong words, considering Lamb Heyniger was in the category), and Jim's job was focused on teaching, coaching and advising students, which he loved. Jim said he hoped to be at St. James until he retired. But alas, four years later, the board fired the head, and the school seemed to spin into in chaos. At yet another career crossroads, Jim decided this time to get off the merry-go-round, and pursued his long-deferred dream of becoming a professional therapist and family counselor. That fall, 1992, he enrolled in the MSW program at Catholic University, in DC. He took out loans to pay for it, lived in a rented room way out in Frederick, MD with no phone, kept his eye on the prize. Things went as planned and in May of 1994 his degree was awarded (by the Cardinal of the DC diocese), with Ted Koppel the commencement speaker.

Description: C:\Users\Ned\Desktop\Wright Memorial\Photos\J&P Wedding 1994.jpgDuring those two years Jim wrote less often. In May 1994 he recapped his last two years. In 1992, at a summer seminar at Bryn Mawr, he met Peggy Brewer, a teacher from North Carolina. They began seeing each other, long-distance commuted for two years, then Jim took his new degree down to Ruffin, NC, to be with her. They lived together and he worked at a Virginia state psychiatric hospital nearby while he prepared to take his licensing exams, aiming to do counseling. A month later, They announced via a mass-mailing that they would be married on July 30, in their own yard, and we were all invited. I could not make it to the wedding, but by all accounts it was a joyous event.

Description: C:\Users\Ned\Desktop\Wright Memorial\July 24, 1983, Our Living Room.jpgFor narrative ease, Jim's career and personal life have been woven into a continuous story above. But during those years he also had some noteworthy intersections with the Class of 1962. In 1983, when Sharon and I decided to get married, we asked Jim to officiate, which he was delighted to do. Jim posed with me, Joe Coffee and Frank Rosenberg in Sharon's and my living room in Mount Vernon, NY, right after the ceremony, July 24, 1983. 

In 1987 we had our 25th reunion, at Darrow. I had been trying to get the Rabbi to come back to all of our reunions, but he always had some conflict with his own school calendar or other events. But he made it to our 25th. That was one I forgot to take my camera Description: F:\NED'S PHOTOS\Darrow '62\Reunions\25th Reunion\Jim Wright's Pix\Orignal shots\scan7.jpegto, so I had no photos of Jim with us, but as fate would have it, he took a bunch himself. A few years ago, cleaning out his files, he asked me whether  I wanted them. I said of course, so he sent them to me. This is the only one Jim was in; you know the other two guys. He wrote a letter (mailed to all of us) afterward, saying he had a great time, how wonderful it was to meet our grown-up selves, wondering (facetiously) how so many of us had turned out to be Republicans (italics in his original). I personally was busy at that reunion, playing trustee, dedicating the Bethards Room (which was refurbished that year with a gift from our class), organizing the softball game where we (once again) cleaned the faculty's clock, and I did not get to spend enough time with Jim then; I barely remember even seeing him there that weekend. But he definitely showed up, and as they say, that's most of the battle.

Returning to Jim's life story, from 1994 on he and Peggy settled into a pattern that was awfully, um, well, normal. They bought a home in Durham, where Jim much enjoyed the opportunities provided by proximity to Duke. (He also became a Blue Devils basketball fan, for which I suppose we must forgive him at this point.) It may have been partly just the passage of time—Jim was 60 now. Making his avocation his vocation, doing what he had so long dreamed of doing, though late in coming, was no doubt a big breakthrough. And being with a person he wanted to spend the rest of his life with…. It seemed as if Jim had found "mellow" (for him anyhow) at last.

He resumed writing an annual Christmas letter. From all accounts, he was happy as a therapist and counselor, and probably good at it—his aptitude was evident, even when we first knew him. He officially "retired" in 1999, but still stayed busy, teaching courses on philosophy, religion, psychology, literature—whatever he was interested in, basically—at the Duke Institute for Living in Retirement (later called the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, OLLI). He also played trumpet with the New Horizons Band, sang Gilbert and Sullivan with the Durham Savoyards, joined two community chorale groups, assisted with Duke's Institutional Review Board (for clinical studies), and in his "spare" time tutored kids, cooked, swam, and played golf.
Description: C:\Users\Ned\Desktop\Wright Memorial\50th Reunion, seminar.JPG 
Jim and Peggy bought a small house in Searsport, Maine, and spent their summers there. (Jim grew up  summering on Nantucket, at his family's place, and always felt "the call of the sea.") They'd sail on Penobscot Bay in his little 14-footer and feast on lobster. Soon Jim was employed three days a week as an interpreter at the Searsport Marine Museum, where he loved the teaching role. They often stopped somewhere in the middle of the long drive. In 2012 the timing was fortuitous for them to attend our 50th reunion at Darrow, en route to Maine. Jim joined us for the class photo on the Meeting House steps, and he facilitated a memorable session (which he had proposed), in which we all shared something about ourselves that the rest of us didn't know yet. This photo was taken during that session; some of us remember that over-the-glasses "look" from class.

Description: C:\Users\Ned\Desktop\Wright Memorial\Photos\Boston, May 2016.jpgWe have seen earlier that Jim "was all about human connections and interactions," and his family connections were the very important for him. Over the years, Jim's and Sarah's children grew up and made their own lives. In his last decade Jim enjoyed being a grandfather. No one lives forever, but from outward signs, Jim, in his early 80s, was doing fine and seemed likely to be around for many more years. The last time I saw him, in May 2016, he stopped in Boston (I live there now) en route to Maine, and we met for lunch. I took this phone-photo on Copley Square. We walked a few blocks to a restaurant; Jim stopped a time or two to stretch out his hip flexor muscles, which were tightening up on him, but didn't complain (much). He had had rotator-cuff surgery the year before, and because of that and his hips, he had been rather sedentary and had put on some weight, but he felt fine otherwise, was planning to get back into exercise, and seemed happy and healthy "for someone our age."

Then came the curve ball. Last February, Jim got an upper respiratory infection; he felt a little off but kept up his routine, and led his seminar on "The Meaning of Life" at OLLI. At home that evening, he told Peggy he was having trouble breathing. She rushed him to the hospital, where he was diagnosed with pneumonia. The infection overwhelmed his immune system, all treatments were ineffective, he developed sepsis and rapidly deteriorated. He fell ill on a Monday, and died that Friday. Peggy called his daughters and they got there in time to be with Jim before he died.

The rest of us had no chance to say goodbye, we just got a lesson in never taking anything for granted: life can change (or end) in the blink of an eye. Jim's many friends, former students and colleagues quickly joined his family in memorializing his life. There was a small open house gathering in Durham a few days after his death, while others took more time to arrange. His daughters set up a memorial page on Facebook, where they and dozens of Jim's friends posted anecdotes and photos. (It has expired, unfortunately, and can no longer be accessed.) Peggy and the family planned memorial events at different locations, so that many who loved Jim could participate in at least one. The first was in Durham in April. Then in June, Jim was memorialized (with others who died in the previous year) at the service of remembrance on Reunions Weekend at Darrow. A third event took place in July on Narragansett Bay, in R.I., where Peter, Jim's younger brother, lives. At each memorial, some of Jim's ashes were dispersed. At Darrow, Peggy and I and members of his family buried them in the apple orchard next to the Shaker Schoolhouse Jim and Sarah had lived in during 1959-61. In Rhode Island, paper boats bearing bits of Jim's ashes were floated out into the bay. The final service will be in Maine this summer, for their Searsport friends, and the remainder of Jim will be laid to rest there.

I recently got a holiday newsletter from Peggy, carrying on what Jim did with gusto each year. From her heartfelt recap of the past year's events, it's clear she is still missing him terribly, but healing, moving ahead, living on her own but with a good support network. While Jim was around, Peggy was somewhat in his shadow, or maybe those of us who had known Jim forever just tended to focus on him. I'm now getting to know Peggy for herself, and she's a strong, honest, smart person (exactly the sort we'd expect Jim to marry.) I have told her she should consider herself part of the Darrow '62 family, as much as and as long as she feels she'd like to be.

Description: C:\Users\Ned\Desktop\Wright Memorial\Jim & Peggy.jpgHaving had a year or so to let this memorial marinate, I still find it impossible to sum Jim's life up in any simple way. From the start, he had great intelligence and curiosity, a high energy level and multiple talents, and he seemed determined to use them all. Even more than most of Darrow's dedicated faculty, he shaped our lives in myriad ways, in just the two years we knew him. As a professional, he tried his hand at a variety of schools careers and other pursuits before finally settling, rather late in life, into what he long had felt was his true, highest calling, helping others understand themselves better, cope with life, learn and grow. He pursued an even larger number of serious hobbies, achieving more than enough skill at each to amuse himself and entertain others. He left behind a large extended family and hundreds (maybe thousands) of friends, but no enemies that I'm aware of. He loved often and liberally (not always wisely), not just people but places and sports and nature and the life of the mind and so much more, and inspired those loves in others. For a man trained as a minister, he was not especially religious; Peter Gorday has described him as "a seeker." Indeed, on the day before he was stricken with his fatal illness,  he was at OLLI, leading a seminar on the meaning of life. He would probably tell us, if he could at this point, that he never quite figured that out—it's the journey, not the destination, etc.  All of us engaged in that quest (i.e., those who don't think they already have the answer or aren't in deep denial), let's thank Jim for providing us with a beacon, up ahead on the path.

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