Monday, December 20, 2021

Jim Nolen - A Friend to All

Somehow Jim decided this job was his.
He always showed up to wash glasses
for Sinful Sundays. It was nice to
have him back there with us.

Last night Ginger and I reviewed our Lee Bottom photos hoping to find some good images of a friend who recently passed away. What we discovered instead was an inescapable realization. A sizable percentage of our friends and airport regulars, people who were pretty much family to us, are gone. Yes, as each of them passed away we felt it. However, they went one by one.

These things creep up on you. Often you sense it coming; sometimes you see its light around the next turn. Yet, thing get real when you see it round the bend at high speed and turn your direction. Heading your way is an object most of us eventually feel. The loss of people for which there exist no replacements.

For us these individuals were part of our family. Many were like family to our families. They volunteered, flew off the grass regularly, brought us pheasants for Thanksgiving, shared amazing stories of early formation teams, found and restored the rarest machines, loved on our animals, offered us great opportunities, educated us, befriended our parents, painted great works of art, made us laugh, and offered unique friendships.

Today the airport is busier with daily traffic than it used to be. However, to me, it feels less alive. Think of living in a great neighborhood and all your neighbors are wonderful. Then, over a period of a few years, all those fantastic neighbors die. Your life is still good, you live in the same place, but you know it will never be the same. That's probably the best way to describe it.

Nearly all the big personalities are gone along with the amazing machines that transported them and their stories. The thunder of booming voices and aircraft radials replaced with the soft spoken wisped along with a Rotax buzz. Jim Nolen was one of the big voices.

Jim has been part of Lee Bottom since before I called it home. One of our earliest Lee Bottom photos is of him sitting in the golf cart with the airport’s previous owner, Fritz. Through the last decades of his life he spanned all but the most distant generations and eras of the field.

Jim was always eager to help in any way he could. He was such a significant part of the background of every event here at Lee Bottom we considered him a bellwether. Being a Baptist minister his voice was well trained to carry the message of fellowship. Both in sound and words, his presence conveyed the feeling everything was good even when it was not. Likewise, when he wasn’t around things felt a little off.

His presence was so interconnected with our events, when he first missed one we realized our clan was on the cusp of collapse. Looking around we could see the writing on the wall. Ten years of magic confluence were about to end. A few calendars later there were no events.

After that, time went on, he got older, and visited less. From there it turned into the occasional email or word of mouth from mutual friends. In his big personality way his energy was still there – only transported through others.

Sadly, we learned of his death a few weeks after he’d passed. The leaves were gone from the trees by that time, cold days were appearing, and talk about next year was in the air. No events were on the agenda but the next era of Lee Bottom was. Jim’s death made it more real.

His existence was that of a character, a string that tied so many together. Every group, organization, event, family, and generation has these people. Often unnoticed until people ask what happened to the good old days, they rarely get the thanks they deserve. They can be the janitor, the CEO, the friend, and even an enemy. But, they always exist. When they no longer do, the thing their connection highlighted almost always vanishes in short order.

Jim was one of the good ones. Everybody’s friend. His loss marks the end of an era. Anyone who wishes to honor him should see to it the next one is full of character, honestly, principle, and friendship. That’s what he always offered all of us.

* I only scratched the surface of his life. See below for more. 

Click here for Jim's obituary.

No comments: