[Noozhawk’s note: The following is Noozhawk publisher Bill Macfadyen’s Jan. 11 eulogy for his friend, Jim Haslem. It’s based on his Nov. 15 Best of Bill column, and is published in response to requests from those who attended Jim’s Celebration of Life at Trinity Episcopal Church in Santa Barbara.]
I’m Bill Macfadyen, and I was asked by Cathy (Haslem) to deliver Jim’s eulogy. It is my privilege to do this for my dear friend.
And I’m relieved that he’s not lurking in the back of the church to critique me afterward. At least I don’t think he is. Is anyone standing back there in Spandex bicycle shorts?
As Jim knew oh so well, I’m basically lazy. So I must tell you that much of what you’re about to hear I’ve plagiarized from the Noozhawk column I wrote about him. Many of you read it.
It’s about time.
When you’re a young parent, you have no context for the saying “long days, short years” — which usually is uttered somewhat wistfully by a wiser, older acquaintance, or even a total stranger, while your children are in the throes of a very public meltdown somewhere.
The point you don’t yet understand is that your present circumstances only seem interminable. The irritation of the moment is preventing you from seeing that time is racing past.
Your epiphany comes much later, when you get to be my age and your kids are out of the house and don’t need you as much. At that point, you begin to realize that each day you live is one less you’ve got, and your allocation is quickly being depleted.
And then time punches you in the gut, and you discover you’re out of it.
We all learned — or relearned — that lesson over a five-month period last year, and it broke our hearts.
Jim Haslem was one of my closest friends. Our wives were childhood pals in Houston and they reconnected when Cathy and Jim moved to Montecito some 22 years ago. We just happened upon each other one Sunday at All Saints Church. Surprisingly, we had been living less than a hundred yards apart for a couple of months.
You all know that Jim was a successful attorney but you may not know he had a longstanding interest in journalism. He was editor of his high school newspaper, was honored as Maryland’s High School Journalist of the Year, and interned at The Baltimore Sun.
Wisely, he had chosen the more lucrative path of law over journalism, but we still hit it off. I was more of a Forbes fan and he preferred Bloomberg, but we both loved The Wall Street Journal and disdained what we called Fossil Media.
After spending much of his career in banking law, Jim gradually shifted toward real estate law, eventually becoming one of the nation’s foremost specialists in large-scale and high-profile commercial lease workouts.
In fact, after Jim died, Cathy joked that the reason he went so quickly was that “God must have had a couple of hundred Arby’s restaurants He needed to shut down in a hurry.”
Over the years, Jim’s perspective and advice were invaluable to me, even though the wisdom often was dispensed at the tail end of a lengthy disquisition on something else he wanted to talk about. Let me tell you, that guy could talk!
He was a stalwart Noozhawk supporter and an endless source of story recommendations, particularly around downtown Santa Barbara and the Montecito disaster. And some people think I’m scornful!
We talked a few times a week. Usually, it was so he could share with me an interview or an article he had published in the latest issue of Real Estate Investment Trust Lease Holders Illustrated or some such riveting trade journal.
My wife, Missy, had a milestone birthday on May 1 and, at her party that day, Jim’s voice was uncharacteristically faint. My late father-in-law died of pulmonary fibrosis, an insidious lung disease that runs in his family and, as a result, my own. Like a hawk, I watch my wife and children for any signs of the symptoms; that’s one of them.
But as we too often do, I got busy and had no time to remember it. For one reason or another, we just didn’t see each other for the next couple of months.
In late July, though, Jim texted to ask me to stop by so he and Cathy could tell me something. That May Day encounter came storming back from the recesses of my memory and a cold shiver ran down my spine.
Missy was in the Adirondacks, in her happy place where Cathy and her sisters used to visit as kids, while I arrived at Cathy and Jim’s house by myself, with trepidation. Time seemed to stand still as I walked through the front gate Jim had built himself earlier that year.
Oh, how I wish I had been right about what I thought I had feared the most.
Jim was a shell of his former self from just a few weeks before, and it was shocking. I hoped I was keeping a poker face as I tried to grasp what I was seeing.
In stunned silence, I listened as he weakly explained he had been diagnosed with a very aggressive form of ALS.
No one would say it as the three of us sat around the patio table, but we all understood it was a death sentence. All we could do — all anyone could do — was pray. So we did.
With time quickly ticking away, Jim bravely and fiercely focused his waning energy on winding down his law practice, trying to get meetings with doctors about a cure that doesn’t exist, navigating insurance purgatory, and getting his affairs in order for his family’s future and protection.
Mercifully, one of our friends, Mari Mitchel, had been through a similar situation and took the lead in organizing a support system. Many of us pitched in, but all of us — Jim included — thought we would have more time.
I started writing this tribute in my head, wanting to publish it before it was too late — so Jim could know the love and respect I had for him while there was still time.
But none of us made it. Jim died the afternoon of Nov. 9, with Cathy and their sons; Sammy, his faithful and beloved golden retriever; his brothers; and our priests at his side. He left this life as he lived it, with faith, grace and dignity.
As most of you know, these last two years have been an enormous and very heavy challenge for the Haslem and Oppen families.
I don’t want to dwell on the darkness but on the light, the light that burned inside Jim and, if we will allow it, can burn inside us, as well.
As Christians, our faith teaches us that this life is an imperfect one. Disruption is inevitable. We will have heartache. Trouble will find us and we will be led to despair.
But if we put on the armor of God, we will not be defeated. We cannot be defeated.
Jim was not defeated; he just ran out of time.
We will always cherish the time we had with him, but we also must cherish the time we have with Cathy and John and Charlie, and to hold them close in the days, weeks, months and years to come.
Time is something we can’t buy, borrow, save or reserve. When it’s gone, it’s gone. All we have is today.
Let’s make the most of it, like Jim did.
— Bill Macfadyen is Noozhawk’s founder and publisher. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org, follow him on Twitter: @noozhawk and Instagram: @bill.macfadyen, or click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.