Eulogy for an old acquaintance

James Morrison, Class of 1988

James Morrison, Class of 1988

I learned last week that an old university friend died. We spent two years together in Bennett House at Mount Allison University in the mid-80s. His name was Jim Morrison.

Not that Jim Morrison. Not the Lizard King, though Jim was big like a T Rex, and he tended to lumber like one. He was also legally blind, but only in the sense that you wouldn’t want to get behind the wheel with him.

Big Jim could appear terrifying when he wanted to, especially if he was scowling.

But it’s not the scowl I remember. I remember the grin. I remember the stereo.

I was an insecure, vanilla kid living away from home for the first time in a dorm aptly known as “Animal House.” It was like permanent summer camp, complete with the sort of pranks you’d expect when 18- to 23-year-old boys live virtually unsupervised.

A favourite was leaners. Dorm room doors opened inward, so it was a pretty simple trick to fill a garbage pail with water, lean it against a closed door, knock and run. Big garbage pails. Carpeted floors. Bennett House was quite the swamp.

My roommate and I received a few such leaners. Freshmen were regularly reminded they were freshmen. Even though these upperclassmen were three, two, even just one year older, there was a definite pecking order.

So imagine a young me, feeling his way, trying to make friends, and this giant older student with a take-no-prisoners grin welcomes me into his room. And imagine that room has the biggest big-ass stereo in the house.

Jim was big, his talk was big and his music was big. He unabashedly loved Top 40 and he loved to crank it. Phil Collins’ “In the Air Tonight” – for when the drums kick in. The intro to Dire Straits’ “Money for Nothing” – for when the drums kick in. The theme to “Miami Vice” – for… well, it was pretty much all drums. Jim loved the drum parts.

I had forgotten “Money for Nothing” until I began writing this, and when I did, I smiled to myself, because Jim shared (imposed) his music with such gusto. This was happy music, even terrible songs like “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” and “Sussudio.” You want Zeppelin and Floyd? Down the hall in the room with the black light and the closed door. Jim’s door was never closed.

I don’t know if you’d call him the King of Bennett House. More like the Cruise Director of Bennett House. Something was always happening in Jim’s room. People wanted to be around his energy, and he wanted to be around them. Jim was a storyteller. He could regale. And what’s a regaler without an audience?

He was also generous – with notes, with clothes, you name it. Want to make a mix tape? He’d set you up. Yes, I made a mix tape with “Like a Virgin” on it. It’s Jim’s fault.

We weren’t close, but we were close enough that I saw some dark times too, usually over what any young guy’s dark times are about – girls. The girls loved Jim, but they didn’t love Jim. He wasn’t standard-issue boyfriend material.

So I was happy to see in Jim’s obituary that he had married, that he had had a successful career as a financial analyst and that he had two young sons that he loved to watch play sports. Did he still play it loud, I wondered? Was he still the universal donor of friendship?

Jim wasn’t on social media, and I had no contact with him over the past 30 years. I learned of his sudden death through a mutual friend. We’re getting to that age where there will be more and more such news, I’m afraid.

Jim and I didn’t hang out after I moved out of Bennett. As I said, we weren’t especially close. Yet I can’t think of those first two years without thinking of him. Big Jim was cool — he shouldn’t have been, but by the force of will he was. He filled the room, and letting me squeeze in that room during those early days of my independence made this kid feel like, hey, I’m all right. I’m going to be all right. Leaners and all.

That’s what I want. I want to remember how a generous spirit can make a difference in someone else’s life. I want to remember Big Jim’s big grin and warm heart. I want my MTV.


About rossmurray1

I'm Canadian so I pronounce it "Aboot." No, I don't! I don't know any Canadian who says "aboot." Damnable lies! But I do know this Canadian is all about humour (with a U) and satire. Come by. I don't bite, or as we Canadians say, "beet."
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40 Responses to Eulogy for an old acquaintance

  1. This is a great tribute. Lately I’ve been thinking more and more about those casual friends from high school and college I’ve lost touch with. Something will spark a random memory and suddenly I’ll remember a generous, friendly face I hadn’t thought about in years.

  2. colemining says:

    Lovely memorial, Ross.

  3. pinklightsabre says:

    Beautiful piece, you made him real and spacious there for me: think, how could that be without social media? It’s an obvious ‘win’ for social media in that category. Isn’t it funny we want to pay tribute that way, it’s what we do when we lose someone close, we try to make it not so for just a moment. It’s all we can do sometimes. Sorry for your loss but glad to have met a more interesting-sounding James Morrison. — Bill

    • rossmurray1 says:

      Yes, I’ve been pondering the greater significance of this in that way. It’s not exactly mourning, is it? It’s like I said the other day: taking stock, writing a conclusion, closing the book. I think there’s also something to the fact that he was my age. Friends are losing their parents, but this other thing is relatively new.

      • pinklightsabre says:

        Totally makes sense. Felt similar in my last job when good friends our age suddenly started to drop off like that. Sad, but a good wake up call and reminder for us to embrace the day.

  4. Lynn says:

    It’s funny how some people leave such an impact on us, regardless of how brief their time spent with us might be. Jim sounds like he was that kind of guy.

  5. Elyse says:

    Any tribute that brings a smile is a good one. But you let me hear the music you shared, as well as the laughs. Thanks.

    I fear you’re right about more and more people passing. Next weekend I will head north for the funeral of an old, dear friend, where I’ll reestablish touch with folks I’ve long lost. Doesn’t fill the hole, but there will be laughs and smiles and memories along with the sadness.

  6. HonieBriggs says:

    Your kind tribute to Big Jim conjured my own memories of an old roommate named Peggy. Unlike Jim, Peggy was a weasel of a person, a freeloader unworthy of mention in the same comment as a friendly spirit such as Jim if not for the fact that she cranked Money For Nothin’ so loud that I wanted to scream (and often did). She played it over and over and OVER. To this day I have a visceral reaction when I hear those first few chords. Those were the days.

    • rossmurray1 says:

      Oh my, roommates. That’s another topic altogether! In fact, I just finished a message-chat with a young man who is tearing his hair out over his “narcissist” roommate. Some things never change.

  7. List of X says:

    I guess when St. Peter hears a knock on his Heavenly Gates, he better be extra careful opening that door.

  8. Wonderful tribute.

    Yes, I’m at that age, too.

  9. That’s so lovely. Make sure you share it with his family.

  10. byebyebeer says:

    Those are wonderful memories. Money for Nothing would sound great on a big loud stereo, especially the opening. I forgot top 40 songs used to be cool.

  11. ksbeth says:

    what a great tribute to an old friend, I’m sure his family would love it if you could get it to them –

  12. Condolences. Thanks for what you wrote. Passed it to our daughter – a Mountie grad. Ties that bind.

  13. Thanks for sharing a wonderful portrait of a super nice guy. It is important to remember folks like Jim in our lives because they enrich our lives.

  14. Gar Conklin says:

    Well, I remember Big Jim. It was the biggest, loudest, coolest stereo in Bennett House. And you are right, he always had people in in room, they would flock there. I remember him putting in his contacts then putting on glasses and then face to paper to write. Thanks for the reflection Ross. Good old Mount A days. Miss the friends I made there. It was a shock to hear about Big Jim. I will toast to him the next drink I have. Cheers.

    • rossmurray1 says:

      Hi Gar. Great to hear from you. If I recall, you were pretty rock n roll yourself. Or maybe it was just your name. You have a rock star name, man! Good memories indeed. Take care of yourself.

  15. Karen says:

    This post reminded me of thoughts I often have about the people who enter and exit our lives, dominating the plot for awhile, and then disappearing and how we never know how their particular story ends.

    Then I remember that everyone’s story ends pretty much the same.

  16. Nice tribute post Ross. I’m finding myself at that age also. Damn. Reminds me of the words of a song by Jackson Browne–No matter how close to yours another’s steps have grown, in the end there is one dance you’ll do alone–Hope your friend had a happy, big life before that final dance.

  17. Look at all those Facebook shares (so far). That’s a testament to what a great piece this is. Hope it somehow makes its way back to his family. His sons. They’d love it.

  18. Such a heartfelt eulogy. Makes me imagine Jim to be someone who’s really cool to hang out with.

  19. “Jim loved the drum parts.”

    I’m pretty sure Jim is my spirit animal. (I don’t refer to anyone in the past tense. If you’re talking about them, they live.)

    “Jim wasn’t on social media”

    Now, I’m positive he’s my spirit animal.

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