“You are truly very kind.”
Those were the last words my friend and mentor James ever communicated with me.
It was about a month before he died.
Kind. Kind. Kind. Kind. The word knocking around between my ears.
The first time we met he said “We are kindred spirits.” I was honored.
There it is knocking around again.
He was the kind one.
James spent decades at the helm of important hotels and brands. Working hard at the difficult times and maybe even harder at the fun times?
He held hands with disputing unions, placating and problem solving, delivering a resolution in even the most tumultuous of situations.
He drank champagne out of crystal flutes, handmade in Waterford. He rolled out the red carpet for royalty and rock stars.
He checked people in. He checked people out. He made beds. He yielded rates and calculated ADR’s. He definitely valet parked cars.
Boy did he love cars.
He mediated. He managed. He mentored. He managed to give and give to his hotel family. Endlessly.
He moved. A lot.
Along the way, he made lifelong friends. He changed lives. For the better.
Most people would bewilder in the face of such wide open opportunity. Overwhelmed with the scale and skill set needed. Not James.
That’s where he thrived.
A story he liked to recount, took place early in his adulthood. James found himself in the unique circumstance of being able to increase his cash flow, impressively, if he could assemble several massive chandeliers by a certain and semi-unreasonable deadline.
“Of course!” He said.
James went to work, selecting a team of mates to help undertake long hours assembling and hanging the intricate frame and thousands of beveled pieces.
Thousands of gleaming hand-cut, hand polished natural quartz and crystal pieces lay before them. Each one as unique as a snowflake. Miles of sparkling puzzle afoot, and he figured it out.
They figured it out as a team.
And this is the greatest thing I can say about James.
To him, those crystal pieces were like people.
Get to know them. Place them appropriately. Put them in a position to shine, and they will.
He recognized that every piece has a place. Every person has a place.
Help them find it and let them dazzle.
He spent the next several decades doing just that.
I was lucky enough to cross into his path about four years ago.
We sat in a board room in Houston and my antennae went up. From that day, I found a friend, a mentor and a guide post. Someone I could count on for honest dialogue, support and a get out of jail free card, should I need it.
His sense of humor was wicked. His passion for his beloved homeland, South Africa and his family and friends was fueled with staggering velocity. His knowledge seemingly endless matched with his capacity for care and kindness.
I am better for knowing him. All of us who knew him are better for it.
Befallen with sullen grief and sadness, I mourn the loss of this bright light.
About a year ago, my daughter accompanied me to an event that James also attended. The gathering, although small, was full of important so and so’s. It required that James do a fair share of shaking hands and kissing babies.
Which he did, masterfully. He also spent a lot of time talking to my daughter about horses. Lippizaner horses, to be exact. They even looked them up on her iPad.
In his illness, Zoe drew many Lippizaner horses and emailed them to him. I hope they brought him a smile or two, like he brought her.
When we received word that he had passed, we were just about ready to set off on a trip to an Orlando theme park. Her Christmas present.
I was visibly shaken and she asked me what was wrong.
“I’ll tell you when we get back,” I said. “It will make you sad, so let’s go have fun and live it up. More than ever.”
Fulfilling our quest, we had the most fun we could have. Celebrating James’ spirit with every step.
An hour or two after we set out on our journey home, Zoe asked the question.
“Mom, remember when we left and you said you wouldn’t tell me what happened until we were on our way back? What happened?”
So I told her.
“Mommy’s friend James passed away. “ I sputtered out. “He was very sick and I’m happy he is not suffering anymore. I hope he’s out riding the plains like a blue wildebeest.”
“A blue wildebeest mom?” She questioned. “ I think that’s him, in the sun, looking over us.”
And with that, I finally wept.
The late afternoon sun hung heavy over the central Florida landscape.
Unclouded and luminous, with honeyed rays filtering over the sawgrass.
Peeking through with brilliance, the warm beams cast a radiant sheen over us all.
A glorious, celestial chandelier, assembled just for us.
Thank you James for your friendship, your leadership and your imitable spirit.
Thank you dear Val and Simkins family for sharing him with us.
We are forever in your debt.