This has been a tough week at The Green Sheet offices. We lost a friend and colleague, Jim McCaffrey, to a form of myelodysplastic syndrome. This is a blood-related condition that inhibits effective production of certain blood cells.
What this meant for Jim was a choice of acceptance or battle. He approached his decision as he did his work, with research, understanding and input from his many friends and family members. The only option that offered him a hope of actual recovery was a stem cell transplant. Battle it would be.
And through all this, in answer to "How are you?" his answer remained the same, "Terrific!" That was just Jim.
Jim came to work for The Green Sheet in April 2011. He had returned to Petaluma, Calif., after spending nearly 30 years in Philadelphia as a reporter for the Suburban and Wayne Times, Main Line Life and Main Line Times. "We were lucky to get him," noted Paul Green, Chief Executive Officer and founder of The Green Sheet.
"We have been lucky enough to have had many great writers over the years ... as employees, independent writers and as contributing writers, and each have brought their own story and skills to our publication.
"Jim brought more than just great writing skill, however, he brought an honesty and desire to make each story as informative and useful to those in our industry as his skill-set would permit.
"He told me in December, 'Knowing where you've been, what you've contributed and where you want to go is a satisfying revelation, and I now get to talk with and write about people who have that self-awareness.'"
Many in our industry had the opportunity to speak with Jim in the two years he was with us as a writer. He defined his role as journalist as someone "used to asking direct, even rude questions to public figures that are big shots, or who think they are big shots, and recording the response." As you can imagine, The Green Sheet was a new kind of gig for Jim.
However, he knew that his role here was not the same as in the past. Laura McHale Holland, Assistant Vice President, Editorial for The Green Sheet noted, "Jim was a lifelong newsman who brought tremendous curiosity, well-honed research skills and a genuine interest in the lives of those he interviewed to his work.
"He was intrigued by so many facets of our culture that he often bonded with people he met on the job over favorite sports teams, visual artists, bands and causes. His enthusiasm was infectious, his generosity enormous.
"He also relished serving the educational mission of The Green Sheet, saying it was a welcome shift from the muckraking he did at many a city hall during his investigative reporting days."
It was hard to not like Jim. He was a big man with an even bigger personality and a huge heart. "I knew we would be great friends; he was a fan of the Oakland Raiders," stated Kate Gillespie, General Manager and Chief Operating Officer of The Green Sheet.
"When he found out I was traveling to Philadelphia on business, he introduced me to two of his friends. I thought that meeting these people may be awkward as we were strangers to each other, but that was not the case.
"They were wonderful to me and made me feel welcomed. I now have new friends in Philadelphia because of Jim. He just had a way of connecting people.
"He was a life force. This loss is going to take a long time to process. I am truly lucky and blessed to have been a part of his journey here."
While in the hospital, Jim had started to write an essay of his experience. Though he never had the chance to finish, his friends posted it on his website (www.jimmccaffrey.com).
Ann Train, a Staff Writer at The Green Sheet and a colleague of Jim's, was moved by this and stated, "I read it last night and one line resonated strongly, 'As the band played, I felt it was a perfect moment that purified my feelings and confirmed for me that the miracles and blessings of life are far more important to me than the possibility of dying.' This encapsulated his approach to life, especially over the past 12 months."
Patti Murphy, Senior Editor at The Green Sheet, said, "Jim was a dear friend, confidant, colleague and fellow rock-n-roller. The last time I hung with Jim was in December. He spoke about his illness and what it meant. 'The bottom line is I'm going to die,' he said. 'But not tonight, so let's go out and hear some good rock and roll.' That's how Jim approached his situation through to the end; his bravery was inspiring.
"Although Jim and I had known each other just a few years, it felt like a lifetime. I will miss his smile, his charm, his appreciation of the arts and his honesty. "Yet I know I'm not alone in feeling that Jim will keep on truckin' in the hearts of those he touched."
Jim touched not just the lives of all of us at The Green Sheet, but also the many people in this industry who came to know him. Impact PaySystem's Dee Karawadra said, "In my life I have had the pleasure of meeting many people. Some of those people have become my friends.
"The friendships were formed over time. Jim was one of these people I had met and who became a friend, but the difference was the time frame it took to become friends.
"My first conversation with him was when he had called to interview me on a topic he was writing about. Talking with him, I felt that there was something special about this guy. That one chat turned into an awesome friendship.
"When visiting a Facebook page setup for Jim by some other friends, you can sense that he had touched many people the same way. Jim would often call me to just check in.
"He was one of those people you got excited to talk to when you saw their name pop up on your phone. Your conversations with Jim always left you feeling better. I will miss seeing my phone ring with his name pop up, and the conversations that followed."
When informed of his passing, Jan Carroza of CSR wrote, "I am devastated to hear the news of your loss. It really brings home how our business is made up of wonderful people like Jim. It just seemed like he was going to beat the odds.
"He was a delight to work with. I will miss his wit, charm and smarts. My thoughts are with you today, and in the days ahead I hope your staff can share some great memories. Please let his family know that their loss radiates throughout an entire community of industry professionals. He touched us all."
And Stewart Chalmers, Managing Partner of Coolhead Group stated, "I am so very sorry ... This is very sad news. In the little time that I got to know Jim, I so enjoyed his enthusiasm, friendliness and his professionalism. He treated everyone from PR flacks to presidents and VPs the same way.
"And like the great reporter that he was, he always was curious about the subject and the interviewee, asking great questions, getting to the heart of the matter but doing so in a friendly and consistent manner."
Jim was a man who not only became your friend, but entered your soul. All who knew him realized this. We will dearly miss him.
Associate Editor, The Green Sheet
When I first met Jim, I thought: Great. I get to work with an actual newsman! Jim worked as a reporter in Philadelphia before returning to California to care for his parents. I soon realized that Jim loved the rough-and-tumble life of covering the goings on in a big city. He was like the Cal McAffrey character (played by Russell Crowe) in the movie State of Play: an old-school type of guy who lived to fight corruption as an investigative reporter.
I imagine Jim liked nothing better than to punch out stories in a hot, sweaty newsroom, then rub elbows with politicians in Philly bars after hours. I can see him reveling in a bar fight now and then or tossing back some brews with his buddies and talking about crime boss Whitey Bulger or some other gangster. I got the sense while working with him that he missed his hurly-burly life in Philly. Petaluma - and Sonoma County in general - is pretty tame and laid back in comparison.
But that didn't slow him down. He was great at churning out stories at The Green Sheet. And he could write in length! If we needed 1,000 words, no problem. If we needed more words, the more the merrier. He was especially proficient with straight news stories. He liked to write stories about credit card fraud, probably because it had to do with crime. And he seemed to relish a challenge.
If a company's PR person was not responding to his queries, he had no trouble getting rough, over the phone or via email. This industry is used to a more docile relationship with the media.
Jim wasn't a fan of big corporations. He knew that the system is set up to exploit the little guy - Jim would probably say "to screw the little guy." That's one of the things I liked best about him. He could see beyond the corporate PR machine.
Jim was a basic guy. He drove an old Ford Taurus, followed by a used Mercury Mountaineer. But he was cultured and sophisticated as well. He was a film buff like me. And we always had the connection of baseball, and sports in general. He was a pitcher in his youth, and a lineman, too. He showed me a picture once of his nephew, I think, who played for Boise State. The young man had the intense, crazed eyes of a linebacker. That's probably why Jim loved the picture.
Of course, Jim was a big music fan, especially The Grateful Dead. But he preferred to hear the Dead live rather than recorded. He also said he would never be caught wearing a tie-dyed T-shirt. He was more of an East Coast hippie, I guess. He always wore a tie to work because that's how a reporter dresses. I imagine Jim could discourse on any subject. He walked with confidence, and he was at ease with people. It is a special gift to be able to talk to anybody. It's especially helpful for a reporter. He knew if he could get interview subjects into conversations, the process would be mutually enjoyable and information would flow more easily. And people naturally trusted Jim because he gave you the confidence that he would not betray you.
When Jim informed The Green Sheet staff that he had blood cancer, there was no fear in his voice. As the months progressed and Jim prepared to go into Stanford Hospital for the radical procedure he hoped would save his life, I did not sense in him any of the natural dread any man would experience at the uncertainty of what was to come. He seemed at peace and resigned to his fate, whatever that might be.
Now I know my assessment was not entirely accurate. He was just a really good salesman. But his kind of salesmanship was special. It wasn't a false front. It was a supreme act of courage.
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