Editor's note: On April 19, 2012 at 8:50 a.m., Jim Pollock, our managing editor, passed away at the age of 59 due to complications from chemotherapy treatment for cancer. This page is set up in tribute of Jim, who devoted 37 years of his life to journalism and nearly all of it to his family. Please feel free to leave a comment on this story with your memories of Jim. What follows below are my reflections and memories.
This Transition came too soon. In rough draft form, minus the written words and minus a token laugh.
It’s too soon for me. For the office. For the business community.
For his wife and three kids.
But as always, in only the way Jim could, his point was made.
I didn’t know Jim as well as others. I worked with him for just shy of two years. He hired me out of college, and then, two years later, slid aside when I returned to Des Moines last May.
His family knows him better. Friends know him better. Current and past co-workers know him better.
A week ago, if you had told me I would be writing the column that’s supposed to put Jim’s life in perspective, I would have run scared. Not only did I not truly know Jim, but I made a conscious decision when I took this job to stay out of the column-writing business for now. I’m young, and lack the perspective I need to be remotely as effective as Jim was in writing his weekly column, “Transitions.”
This isn’t how I dreamed of writing my first. And this isn’t the situation it should be about.
By proxy of being the editor, I found myself in a spot nobody can really prepare for. As Jim’s health deteriorated as a result of chemotherapy complications, I became a first-time manager, helping manage a death and helping his family cope with a passing that happened at a pace quicker than Jim’s wit.
I informed our company when he was transferred to hospice. I informed the business community when he passed. I participated when his family was remembering every beautiful moment they had shared with him, wrote his obituary, comforted his kids as best I could and cried right along when nobody was looking. Then, felt the honor of being a pallbearer, tasked with helping lay Jim to rest.
This was a man who never bragged. He spoke softly with so few words, but it was his actions and thousands of written words that said so much. And somehow, after walking the bizarre path that ended at the little Ashton Cemetery near Mingo, I finally understood Jim.
I know Jim now. And I want you to know what I know. So let me do for Jim what he would never have done for himself.
Oh, and what follows, I can assure you, Jim would frown upon.
I know his family didn’t know how amazing of a columnist he was. He was so humble that he was too embarrassed for his wife, Nola, to read his column with him around.
I know he is missed by so many more than he would ever have expected. He most certainly wouldn’t have expected a line out the door at his visitation last Sunday, or a 50-car procession to the cemetery. I also know I laughed when I thought about him looking down and thinking, “gee, who’s the guy blocking traffic on U.S. 65.”
I know if I could still assign him a story, I’d have him write a column about his own funeral. I know at some point in that column, he’d find the hilarity in it all and somehow make you laugh about a funeral.
I know he’d be surprised to know his coworkers sat around in a circle on the day he’d passed to share stories of his life. Then he’d be immediately disappointed to know we wasted an hour that could have been spent putting out a paper.
I know he was the picture of health. Rumor has it he brought fast food to work just one time, presumably to see what the rage was about. His only drugs? Mountain Dew and Fritos.
At the office, we all know he brushed his teeth more consistently than DiMaggio hit baseballs during a hit streak.
I know he was a man of many diverse passions, many hidden, but all to satisfy his intense desire to learn. He was a woodworker who never got to use the bandsaw he was having flown in from Europe. He was a publicly reluctant Mingo farmer, a photography enthusiast and rider of bikes who traveled more than 800 miles last year on the Chichaqua Valley Trail, according to his journal.
I know we realized about a week after Jim had passed that the leaves on our token office plant had suddenly yellowed. Turns out the plant needed Jim just as much as we did.
I know the closest he ever came to bragging was when he talked about his kids. I know he’s proud of Hollis, the new student body president at Wartburg College. I know he’s proud of Quinn and loved watching him run track for his high school. I know he was proud to have his oldest son, Travis, deliver a beautiful speech at the funeral, a speech with classic Jim lines weaved throughout, as only a son of Jim could do.
I know that if they learned half as much as I did from Jim in my two short years at the Business Record, all three will be just fine, as they embark on an unfair life without their dad.
I know Jim had the talent to be a nationally syndicated columnist, but an ego three sizes too small. He was a masterful writer who played chess with words, and always won. In every story there was at least one line in which he disrupted your expectations about life, knitting in the smallest, most important details, making you laugh, and filling you with hope that his column would never end.
I have to imagine he’s writing a column right now. I’m sure he didn’t make it past the pearly gates without putting heaven into perspective for St. Peter.
I know he wasn’t planning to retire. He loved that each day he got paid to learn. And, thank goodness. We all had so much more to learn. He was a teacher, my first professional teacher, who rarely taught with words, compliments or criticisms.
I know he had faults. I’m pretty sure the sign in the bathroom at work gently reminding us to rinse toothpaste out of the sink was for the one guy who actually brushed his teeth at work. I know the hardest thing in the world was introducing new technology to Jim.
Yet he married a woman who manages technology at DMACC.
And he chose Twitter as the medium to tell his son he had cancer.
I know spoken words weren’t his strength. Seeing a ‘good job’ comment on a story he’d edited made you proud, because verbal compliments weren’t coming. I know that, for the better part of 24 years, he hadn’t told his son Travis how he felt about him.
And yet, after he passed, I learned from a colleague that he had told her just how much he liked my writing and how bright a future he thought I had.
And, when he absolutely had to, he found a way to say what he needed to say without a pen. As Jim was slipping toward unconsciousness, Travis arrived at the hospital from Denver, and Jim finally looked up and said the words Travis so desperately needed for the rest of his life – “I love you.”
I know I’m out of space. But there’s just so much to Jim, and even so much more I’m not sure anybody knew.
But I know he worked hard to the end, always putting others first. So I’ll leave you with one final detail.
On top of Jim’s desk is an old little silver flip calendar. A truly neat device. I wish I knew its story. Every day Jim walked into the office, he’d flip it over to change the date and get to work. It’s stuck on Thursday the 29th – the last day Jim worked, filled head-to-pen with chemical poison, with an unknown hospital visit looming. And, for the last time, he turned in his column.
Even at the very end, Jim made sure to put everyone else first. Always. This was the man who, while working on the farm with his son, once broke his foot – and hopped home. The man who didn’t want to tell the office, his family or his readers that he was sick. Not because he was embarrassed, but because he didn’t want anyone to worry.
I know that despite being unconscious and on a ventilator, Jim knew what was going on. I know he knew his family was paralyzed by his side, praying he’d wake. I know that when he was moved to hospice care, he knew it was his time to go. I know he didn’t want his family to have to agonize over a decision to take him off the machine, as was planned for Thursday afternoon.
So when the spring thunder rolled in that Thursday morning, Nola bent down and asked him if he knew she was there. He nodded his head yes. She asked him if he was scared. He shook his head no.
Then Jim passed away peacefully, on his own accord.
A graceful Transition.
Thank you, Jim, for all of your Transitions, as you embark on the greatest Transition of all.
Remembering Jim... through the words of co-workers and friends
“...what all of us ‘normal’ people were wondering, he could write, or he would make you think in a way that you just had to smile about... because you could relate.”
- Monica Dolezal
“I never met Jim, but I felt I knew him through the enlightening, knowledgeable articles he wrote.”
- Debora Duncan
“For a man of letters in a small town school environment that exalted football, Jim was everyone’s favorite.”
- Bill Bartine
“We used to tease him by saying the editors were running a contest to see if they could assign him a story that he couldn’t make funny or interesting. One day - I kid you not - an editor proposed that he go interview homeless people on April 15th and ask them how great it is not to pay taxes. Jim looked up and said ‘If you’re trying to get me to quit, it won’t work.’ I don’t remember if he actually did that story - I hope not - but he turned everything he touched into gold.”
- Ken Fuson
“We lost one of the good guys today. Nay, one of the greats. Jim was one of the kindest men I ever met, a true gentleman and wordsmith.”
- Larry Ballard
“He was easy to talk to, genuine, and his column was the highlight of every Business Record. A great hole will be left in Des Moines’ journalism community.”
- Justin Brady
“His quick wit could defuse even the most intense meeting, reminding us all not to take everything so seriously.”
- Kathryn Dickel
"Jim probably didn’t realize that all that phone fodor over the years gave me something. Both Jim and the comfortable conversations gave me the ability to look at a story through the eyes of an editor. And the eyes of readers. It gave me the liberty to talk freely and creatively in an effort to identify value. It gave me permission to think aloud. It encouraged me to keep thinking when he saw the potential but I was falling short. He helped construct my wings."
- Kim Waltman
“He was a true professional journalist and overall just a great guy to work with. No question that we were all so fortunate to have known and worked with Jim.”
- Mara White
“I’ve always wanted to write with Jim’s humor and grace. I knew him as a colleague and as a competitor, and he displayed the same humor and grace in life.”
- Lynn Hicks
“It was Jim’s column that I often turned to first when I received my weekly Business Record.”
- Lindsay Schwarte
“He told the warmest of stories about the simplest of things.”
- Steve Dinnen
“Jim was the epitome of a journalist. He was always curious, always trying to find that one nugget of information that nobody else could have found. And he cared. Jim cared deeply about making the Business Record the best it could be. He was always trying to find ways to make the paper better and preaching that journalistic integrity was of paramount importance, no matter the medium. The reach he had in Greater Des Moines speaks to how good of a journalist he was. And we can all learn from his humble nature.”
- Kyle Oppenhuizen
“A quiet gentleman-farmer. And a great writer. He need not have even talked with me, but he always made a point to - again, evidence of his kindness.”
- Greg Goaley
“He offered a lovely editorial touch, fixing prose in such a way that a writer would say, ‘Gee, that’s what I thought I was saying.’”
- Charley Blaine
“...he was exceptional in his questioning technique. It was more like a conversation with a friend and I’m confident every person he interviewed felt the same way.”
- J. Ann Selzer
“Every once in a while all these years later I think of things Jim said or wrote and I still smile. I will forever, too.”
- Jane Burns
“His friendship and love will be missed by many.”
- Carolyn Bishop