“Death cancels everything but truth; and strips a man of everything but genius and virtue. It is a sort of natural canonization. It makes the meanest of us sacred –it installs the poet in his immortality, and lifts him to the skies.
Death is the greatest assayer of the sterling ore of talent. At his touch the dropsy particles fall off, the irritable, the personal, the gross, and mingle with the dust –the finer and more ethereal part mounts with winged spirit to watch over our latest memory, and protect our bones from insult.
We consign the least worthy qualities to oblivion, and cherish the nobler and imperishable nature with double pride and fondness.” – William Hazlitt
And so it goes… that I choose to remember the nobler and imperishable nature of Jim Goodwin – my friend, colleague, mentor, and “Keeper of the Marsh”.
Last Friday afternoon I had a wonderful phone conversation with Jim. Yesterday, I received news of his untimely death – just 9 months after he retired to enjoy the good life. During the past 24 hours I’ve heard from dozens of friends and colleagues whose lives Jim touched. Amid the shock and grief we all feel, the deep pain of loss and sorrow, the heartache for his wife Layne, there is a common thread to every sentiment expressed – Jim was loved and respected. He was one of the good guys, and he taught me so much.
Jim worked for a government agency but was no bureaucrat. He was an environmentalist, but not a radical. He was the first land manager for the Corkscrew Regional Ecosystem Watershed (CREW), and CREW is the showcase natural area it is today because Jim loved the land and managed it with great care, practical wisdom, and a lot of heart. He was a field guy!
Jim earned respect from colleagues far and wide. And shared a mutual respect with those who were as committed to the land as he was and cared enough to do the right thing to protect it.
Practical at every turn, Jim looked for the most efficient, most beneficial ways to improve the functioning of the CREW watershed, despite the sometimes ridiculous and inefficient government red tape.
Jim’s quiet, stand-offish nature and sort of gruff manner was deceiving. He really was a kind, sensitive guy. Just ask those kittens he took home after they got dumped off in a box one day out at CREW.
If you worked for or with Jim, he always had your back. And you had his. Because he’d earned it.
As a mentor, Jim was the best. Teaching by example, encouraging development of new skills, providing safety and trust, giving feedback that made you better every time you did something. And I’m sure he never really thought of himself as a mentor. It just came naturally to him.
He was humble beyond compare, never wanting recognition or the spotlight – and would be embarrassed to know I was writing these things about him today.
Jim was a champion for the people, too. He believed people had a right to use their public lands in appropriate ways, and he fought long and hard to open trails and provide access and amenities so that kids and their families could learn to love the land, too.
When I first met Jim I didn’t quite know what to think of him or whether to talk to him. But when I came to work for CREW he took me under his wing and showed me the ropes, helped me learn, made me take some risks and stretch the limits of my skills. He shared a whole new way to see the land as a system and his dreams for making it better. So thank you, Jim, for being the person you were. For working hard. For caring. For fighting the good fight. Now it’s up to the rest of us to keep the dream alive…
There’s a big ol’ pine tree out at CREW that Jim just loved. I have a feeling that ol’ pine is missing him today almost as much as the rest of us do…
“When a great man dies, for years the light he leaves behind him, lies on the paths of men.” – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow