photo credit: Karie Angell Luc
by Kathy Routliffe
Friends, colleagues and members of Winnetkan David James’ extended family said goodbye to him on July 29, in a music and laughter-filled service at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Winnetka, the parish where James worshipped and professed his faith.
That faith informed his personal life, his professional accomplishments and his determination to be a catalyst for change in Winnetka and the world, attendees at the service heard.
Reverend Steve Lanza said the 92-year-old, who died July 23, “was, quite simply, a blessing to others … God blesses us for having known, and been gifted with, this righteous man.”
Lanza’s memory of James as talkative sparked chuckles of recognition among those in the sanctuary. So did James’ son, Peter, who recalled his father as a raconteur – “Dad had a million stories,” he said. In fact, Peter James said, his father’s eventful life meant that everyone, even family members, could be surprised by learning another facet of it – like his own discovery as a young man that in addition to Greek and Latin, his father spoke Yiddish, thanks to a boyhood job at a South Side green grocery.
Other part of James’ life were better known, his daughter Mary James recalled – his World War II career as a part of the Tuskegee Airmen’s 332nd Fighter Group; moving with his family to Winnetka in 1967 after being convinced to do so by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.; co-founding the group that would become Open Communities and pushing for fair housing and social justice on the North Shore; helping his wife start a summer camp to bring South Side and North Shore children together; earning a law degree and becoming a deputy director of Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty; his time in Harold Washington’s 1983 Chicago mayoral campaign; among other accomplishments.
Other memories were personal. Mary James talked about how her father’s parents moved their family to Chicago to provide them more opportunities; how he fell in love with a young Wisconsin girl, Mary Galloway, at Chicago’s interracial Friendship House; how he gathered a family of children beyond his own six, loving and mentoring so many more that he considered part of his family.
Beyond what he did, Mary James said, and beyond what she called “a magnificent and wondrous sweep” to her father’s life, was a man of “generosity and graciousness” who never let the onerous racial constraints with which he lived turn him bitter or angry.
“David James delighted in, and loved, everyone,” Mary James said, whether they were doctors, waitresses, lawyers or dirt farmers in southern Illinois. “He was guided by his Catholic faith.”
“Dad, we will so miss you. But we carry your love, generosity and wisdom with us always,” she said.
The world, his son Peter said, reflected through David James “like a magnificent prism.” Peter used the words Shakespeare gave Hamlet to praise his own father, to sum up David James: “A was a man, take him for all in all, I shall not see his like again.”