Jim Popanz - A Eulogy

I met Jim in late 1996 or early 1997. I had a salesman working for me who had spoken with Jim and came back to me to report: "You HAVE to meet this guy - he is one strange bird." We were trying to sell Jim computers and Internet access for his business at that time and if you have ever tried to sell Jim anything you know just how hard a job that can be! I went to meet this guy named Jim and I gave my usual speech about who we are and what we do. Jim looked at me near the end of my presentation and said " Is this how you treat all new customers?"

I was horrified - had I done something to offend him? Did I say something wrong? Did my huge effort to restrain myself from my normal, excessive use of profanity fail me? No. What I did not learn until much later was that Jim had already decided, even before that meeting, to do business with us, and that he was truly interested in how we presented ourselves to people. He really WAS interested in us and how we work. Oh, don't get me wrong, he thoroughly enjoyed seeing me squirm and dodge and try to respond to his question too. I left there that day thinking - "Wow - what a strange bird". A strange bird that I really came to like.

As time went on I became his customer as well when I bought our phone system from him. I remember one time when one of his guys came to service our phones. I thought it was a simple fix but it took two different visits from two different technicians. I called to ask about the invoice when it came and Jim just said "Aw Jesus Damien! - don't you know how this all works? You don't call and question little piddly invoices like this - who has time for that? If you think you we overcharged you then you just overcharge us the next time you come and service our computers. That's the way this works." I just laughed - he really meant it.

Jim was a big guy - like 6'4" tall with a rye smile and razor sharp wit who seldom missed an opportunity to rib you. He was an old school business man that called a spade a spade and made no apologies for it. He was also one of those big guys that, underneath, was just too nice. People have referred to him as "just a big old teddy bear". One of my employees recently told me that when they asked Jim about the big Mickey Mouse poster on his office wall that Jim responded "He's my hero. Always whistling, always happy, got a cute girlfriend - he's my hero."

Jim and I had a few lunch dates over the years where we talked about business, bitched about customers and employees and told stories about dealing with banks and lawyers. Jim became a friend and while I'm sure the word "mentor" is too strong (he would surely frown at it) he was certainly an example to follow. As a younger businessman it is sometimes hard to be taken seriously by the old guard but this was never an issue with Jim. He talked to and treated me as an equal and I always considered that a compliment. He ran a business for many years, provided service and jobs to the community. He didn't so much offer advice as just set an example with his behavior. He was so frank and plain spoken about things that I think others may have written him off as an average guy. In truth he had the rare quality of knowing the value of cutting through the B.S. and dealing with things as they really were. Jim never seemed rushed and seemed to have a pace about him that was, confident. Others may have seen him as laid back and nonchalant but if so I think it came from this underlying confidence - he seemed to know that all things happen in good time and will turn out for the better.

Jim stopped by my office when he was diagnosed with cancer and I could tell that he was really shaken. We had always talked about the possibility of working together, merging, or some kind of buy out as he and others retired over the next several years. He said that if I was ever really serious about it that we should start talking about ideas and options. I was serious, and we did. These merger/buyout ideas are still being discussed today and maybe someday something will come of it. I told him - "Cancer? - screw that! You have to go kick its ass - that's just all there is to that". I told him to get all fired up and just kick it in the ass. Others have done it - it could be done. My mother did it - he could too. He agreed.

I saw Jim many times after that but he really did not look any different to me until last July. In July, for the first time, he looked like a guy who was fighting cancer - but doing well. He was doing chemotherapy and had lost some weight but said that if the tumor continued to shrink that they may just go in and get it in August. He talked about how pissed off he was that he could not even cross a room to turn on a light without getting winded. He was optimistic but frustrated.

Through August I heard he was doing well and even in September too. I talked to him on the phone a few times and he sounded good. But then, about three weeks ago I saw him in his office. He was at his desk as usual but he looked thoroughly exhausted and had lost more weight. I had not seen him since July and since I thought that he was winning the battle I was not prepared to see him that way. He said he was in the hospital for a week or so because of blood clots and complained to me about "these damn socks" that he had to wear to control the blood flow in his legs. "They come all the way up to the top of my thigh and then all the fat sticks out the top!" he complained, still as funny and plain spoken as ever. We also talked about a new color printer that he bought mail order and other shop talk. I told him I'd take him to lunch and we could bitch about business and solve the world's problems.

Then, a week ago, I got an e-mail from a mutual friend that said Jim was admitted back into the hospital and admitted into hospice and that he feared that Jim's life was now short. I decided that I would go see him in the hospital. I was not sure if he needed anything but my Mom clued me in to the fact that chocolate is always good if you are not sure because, even if he didn't like it that he could always use it to bribe the nurses! So chocolate it was. I soon realized how bland chocolate boxes look but lucked out and found one in the shape of a Christmas tree that looked pretty festive. I went down to his room and peaked in - there was another couple there visiting and they looked glad to see me. As I turned the corner I could see Jim and it upset me to see him in such bad shape. I introduced myself to the couple and they really did tell me their names but I can't remember them now - I was just too emotional at the time to remember I guess. The couple said that he was sleeping and had been a lot. As we were talking Jim woke up and opened his eyes and looked at me. It took him a moment to wake up but he did, and I am convinced that he recognized me knew who I was. I said " Hi Jim, just thought I'd stop by and see how you were. Brought you some candy - and even if the doctor says that you can't have any, at least you can bride the nurses! He started to try to talk and it was very hard for him. After several attempts I continued: "You know Jim - if you didn't want to do lunch with me this week you didn't have to go through all this..." This got a chuckle from the other couple and I struggled to keep things light and cheerful. Jim tried to talk again and I could tell he was frustrated that he couldn't. He started to raise his arms very slowly and at first thought he wanted to shake hands but I think it was just a gesture that you make as you talk - talking with your hands. He was very frustrated and thoroughly exhausted and started to fall asleep again. I stopped talking and let him.

Jim died four days later - he was 57. It turns out that I am very glad that I went to see him even though I could not talk to him and even though he had many people that knew him better that I did. I thought it was the least I could do for a friend - to stop by and let him know I was thinking about him.

I have a lot of good memories about Jim and things he said and did. I have this image in my head that I just can't shake. This image of Jim at the pearly gates, being admitted into heaven, talking with St. Peter, etc., etc. I can see Jim interrupting and asking "Is this how you treat all new arrivals?" Yup, one thing is for sure - Heaven will never be the same again now that Jim is there. And neither will any of us who came to know him.