Farewell to an Old Friend


Judy and Diane Bingham

When I moved to Seattle in the early eighties, our next-door condo neighbors were a gay couple who had been together for close to seventy years. Among their many friends was a guy named Jim Hunt who operated a flower shop in the business lobby of our mixed-use building. When After the Fire came out as a self-published chap book in 1984, he took several copies and sold them on consignment. One of his customers, Diane Bingham, was a Vietnam War-era widow who started WICS—Widowed Information Consultation Services of King County. After reading the book, she contacted me and invited me to do a poetry reading at a widowed retreat in the early summer of 1985. That’s where Bill and I first met. We married six months later, so the fact that we’ve been together for going on thirty-eight years is all Jim Hunt’s fault.

After marrying and moving to Bellevue, I lost touch with Jim for a number of years. Then, in the nineties, when we were renovating our second Bellevue house, Bill and I went to a plumbing supply place where I recognized Jim’s voice long before I saw him. It really is a small, small world because he was there with his new interior design client who just happened to be our next-door neighbor. After that chance meeting we resumed our friendship.

Jim grew up gay in Texas in the forties and fifties which would have been tough enough all by itself. The situation was made worse by his having less than stellar parents. Several times during his childhood Jim was rousted out of bed in the middle of the night when his drunken parental units set various houses on fire by smoking in bed. He told us that, years later, his father actually died as a result of smoking in bed. Jim’s best ally throughout those years was a loving grandmother who told him, “Jimmy always keep your place neat. That way people will think you’re nice.”

At age 16, Jim graduated from high school and went off to the school of design at UCLA on a full scholarship. By age 21 he was living and working in New York City. Between them, he and his roommate had one good suit and one winter coat, but they made it work. I don’t know exactly how or when he ended up in Seattle, but for years he did Christmas decorations for any number of downtown buildings including several condo associations. For that part of his business, he started buying Christmas supplies in July and eventually he came to dread the whole idea of Christmas.

After reconnecting with Jim, Bill and I tried downsizing and moved to a condo unit in Bay Vista. He did our interior design. When we discovered we weren’t good at downsizing and bought our current home, he came here and sat in the house for hours on end. Trying to figure out what to do with it. When it came time to buy furniture, he took me to Dania on a Saturday morning. We were there for a total of one hour and fifteen minutes. In that time I picked out four easy chairs, a sofa, end tables, a dining room set, a bedroom set, and office furniture. He maintained that never before and never afterwards had he been on a shopping trip to match that one. (My idea of shopping is “get in and get’er done!)

By that time Bill and I had a flock of grandchildren. I’m not sure how the subject of Christmas decorations came up, but somehow it did. Jim allowed as how, since he wasn’t doing Christmas decorations for anyone else, he could tackle ours, letting us know that he would show up on the Saturday after Thanksgiving to start the process. Believe me, it was a process all right, one that lasted from Thanksgiving weekend until dangerously close to our Lil Jul Aften gathering on the Sunday before Christmas.

Jim was a perfectionist. He would put something down and then stand there examining it for several minutes before, likely as not, moving it to a someplace else. He wasn’t happy until every flat surface in the house—upstairs, downstairs, and bathrooms included—had some deft bit of Christmas decor. Once finished, our whole house looked like a department store window. He didn’t believe in just one Christmas tree. There was always a flock of white trees in the family room and a similar grouping of green trees on the front porch. The white trees came with blue decorations; the green ones with red. He once created a peacock diorama in our bedroom which has remained there ever since like a long treasured piece of art work.

When Colt was five, he was “helping” Jim decorate. While assembling the creche, somehow the porcelain figure of Joseph came to grief and lost his head. Grandpa glued Joseph back together with super glue, and the process continued. I was in another room at the time, but I overheard the conversation as Jim began putting the various figures in place. “Is that baby Jesus?” Colt asked. “Yes,” came the answer. “Is that Jesus’s mother?” Colt asked. “Yes,” Jim replied. When it came time to put the recently repaired Joseph in place, Colt asked “Is that Baby Jesus’s father?” What followed was a long, thoughtful pause on Jim Hunt’s part before he finally responded. “I believe you’ll have to ask your mother about that.”

Three years later, the day before we were due to leave on a Rick Steves trip with the kids and grandkids, our dog-sitting arrangements fell through. We called Jim in a panic and asked for help. He graciously agreed to come and stayed with Bella for the three weeks we were gone, and he spoiled the dog rotten. That’s why, when our downstairs powder room got redone as a result of some broken pipe water damage, a mural with Bella suddenly appeared in the corner of the wall hidden behind the door. It’s a life-sized portrait of Bella with her peeking into the room through what looks like a torn piece of wallpaper. Jim told me that every house needs a piece of whimsey—and that picture of Bella was it.

Jim did our Christmas decorations for years, starting the planning and buying process in July. Because we were his only Christmas customers, it was fun for him again, and it was fun for us, too. When the grandkids showed up once the job was completed, they were always thrilled to see the house dressed up to the hilt front to back. And every year, when Lil Jul Aften came around, Jim was here with us as a beloved member of our extended family.

After reading all of this, it should come was no surprise Jim Hunt has been J.P. Beaumont’s decorator, too, both for his downtown Seattle condo and later for Beau’s and Mel’s new place in Bellingham. As for Mel’s rolling carts of properly labeled, color-coded Christmas decorations? Guess where those came from? Jim’s responsible for those as well.

Several years ago, Jim let us know that he could no longer manage step ladders. As a consequence, he would be unable to do our Christmas decorations. That year, the kids and grandkids came over on a Saturday morning and, in three hours flat, they completed the full-meal-deal, including installing the blue decorations on the white trees in the family room and the red ones on the green trees out on the front porch. They had been raised on Jim Hunt decorations and knew exactly where everything should go and how it should look. The end result may not have been quite as extravagant, but it worked. Once it was done, we invited Jim over to see the kids’ handiwork. After touring the house, he shook his head sadly and said, “I’m really disappointed. I had hoped it would look a bit more forlorn than this!” After the tour, the three of us—Jim, Bill, and I—went off to dinner at John Howie Steak.

In 2018 when we sold the Tucson house, he flew down to Arizona with us and helped sort through what should stay and what should go. Then when the saved stuff arrived here, he came over and helped incorporate what we had brought back with what was already here. Bringing home our collection of artwork was a problem because there just wasn’t enough wall space. We have tall ceilings, though, and the only way to hang all the paintings was to stack them, one above another. The next time Colt came to visit, he looked around and said, “Grandma, it looks like an art gallery exploded inside your house.” It did then and still does, and we have Jim Hunt to thank for that.

Then the Pandemic intervened. The last time I spoke to Jim he mentioned he’d been having issues with long Covid. Another mutual friend and I had talked about driving up to Arlington to have breakfast with him, but somehow we never quite made that work. Jim passed away last week. It would be easy to beat myself up for waiting too long, but this way I get to remember him as he was the last time I saw him—standing poised in the middle of our living room, directing Francisco, the guy on the ladder, as to exactly where he should drive the nail to hang the next painting.

Jim had no kids of his own, but he adored his nieces and nephews. When one of his great nieces had a baby girl, he went straight out and bought her a little black dress, because, according to him, every girl, no matter what her age, needs one of those.

This year, when we put out our Jim-Hunt-selected silver reindeer, whether it ends up on the mantel over the fireplace or on the credenza by the front door, you can be sure that even though Jim won’t be there in person, he will be in spirit.

Rest in peace, my friend. We will miss you, but we still have all those boxes of hand-selected, color-coded decorations to remember you by.

53 thoughts on “Farewell to an Old Friend

  1. What a mutually satisfying relationship you developed with Jim; love how he became part of the fabric of your life! And how his spirit continues to walk with you.

  2. I am so very sorry for your loss, J.A. Jim sounds like the perfect, gentleman and friend.

    May that reindeer be a lasting memory of him for you and yours.


  3. Thank you for sharing your time line of beautiful memories and blessings with your dear friend, Jim. I am sad for your loss but hope all those treasured events will continue to bring you joy.

  4. Am so sorry you list a beloved friend. Your memories are a lovely tribute to your extended family member. Grief is a love you want to give. But cannot. “I was told the pain gets easier, though it will never go away. On reflection I realized. I wouldn’t want it to, it is a testament to the love & the relationship I had for & with that person, (my hubby & parents). If the hurt is deep? So was the love for that person. Those hurts, scars are a testament to life.” Our grief shows our love. and our regrets that we will no longer be able to share that love. Our hearts and our prayers are with you, the family, and the friends of your dear one.

  5. What beautiful story.
    A touching tribute.
    Thanks for sharing.
    A long time fan who cherishes your
    Books and stories.

  6. Judy, your words made me cry but also made me smile. Wish I had known Jim…but wait, I do know him through your blog! Thank you for sharing this wonderful man and his life with us.

  7. What a awesome memory and a great friendship. It’s what real friends do. God bless. ????

  8. So sorry for the passing of your friend! I’m glad you have many good memories to keep his spirit alive i n you and your family!!

  9. Judy, this was a wonderful story about a great friend. How lucky you were to have known him and been a part of each other’s lives. I had wondered before how you decorated your house each Christmas since you had made reference to decorating in a past blog. Now I know. But what and incredible wonderful way to have had it done for all those years and the legacy he left your grandchildren to continue in his fashion.
    I’m so impressed with each of your stories each week. It’s amazing how you come up with these. I do hope that you will combine them all into a book or multiple books, one a year.
    I’m writing stories about my life too through an online program called Storyworth. Each week you answer a question, either prompted by them or made up by yourself and turn it into a story of your life. At the end of a year, 52 weeks later, it is turned into a book. Sometimes I struggle to think of what to answer next that would be relevant and meaningful, and so I am all the more impressed that you do this each week.
    I’ve only been reading your blogs since we connected over Ed. How long have you been writing them?
    I hope you continue to write them each week. You have led such an interesting life that is definitely worth sharing.

    • The first blog I wrote was after the passing of my son-in-law. They were only occasional at first. I’ve been writing the weekly one for at least a dozen years.

  10. A sad event but it also brings up warm memories. Memories that will last forever even through your grandchildren. Hugs for the loss. A bright candle forever burning for the memories.


  11. I’m so sorry to hear that you’ve lost another of your good friends. For me, the hardest part of getting older is saying goodbye to the people you’ve shared large chunks of your life with. Sending you virtual hugs and songs.

  12. What beautiful memories you have of your friend. Am so sorry for your loss. Very interesting how you included him in your books. Don’t know how you picked out your furniture in such a short time. I probably could if hubby wasn’t with! He came back from hunting once and I had a new recliner and reclining couch in our family room. He was taking too long to decide what he liked. Again heartfelt sympathy in the loss of your dear friend.

  13. Thanks for sharing this nice memory. The old saying “old friends are the best friends, ” is so true.

  14. What a sweet story. Everyone should have a Jim in their life. I do…my husband. Unfortunately he is not like your Jim at all. He has gifts and talents in other areas though. Thank you for sharing your story.

  15. What a beautiful loving friendship! Thanks for sharing Jim with us through your books and these sweet memories!

  16. I believe you first introduced us to “Jim” as the decorator for Beau. Then again in the Ali series. He will always be close to you.

  17. We have heard about Jim for so many years, on blog and in books, it feels like we have lost a friend, too. I am sorry.

  18. Life is all about family and those precious friends who become family! What a lovely friendship. Thanks for sharing.

  19. What a Beautiful legacy. It makes my heart feel good. God puts people in our lives for a reason and with you sharing Jim with us is so loving.
    Thank you??
    God Bless You Jim ??

  20. I appreciate you givng your fans an inside look at your life. It’s sad that as we all get older, so do our friends. Every Sunday, our paper, the Bellingham Herald prints all the obituaries for the week. Sadly, there seems to be a friend or former coworker who has passed on every Sunday.

    Your mention of J.P. Beaumont reminds me you haven’t knocked him off yet and I always look forward to the latest Beaumont book. Can you let us all in on the secret of the next Beaumont book release date?

    Currently, I am 2 chapters in Collateral Damage. So far so good. Each new book of yours is passed on to 4 neighbors who also enjoy any of your series.

    Please continue with your steps and determined writing. I never want to lose my favorite source of reading material. THANK YOU.

  21. Thank you for sharing your memories of your dear friend, Jim Hunt. How lucky you were to have “found” him again and share mant years together.

  22. When reading your first paragraph I was stunned and fearful that your lost friend might be Diane Bingham and my guilt of not recently been in contact with her raised it’s ugly head. I am so sorry for the loss of your friend, Jim. I know how hard that can be after losing my dearest friend, Lorraine, a couple years ago.

    Diane has been a friend since I lost my second husband in 1982 and turned to WICS for help dealing with my sudden loss. I ended up taking their group therapy twice, then co-facilitating for a while after that. So, you have triggered me to try to reconnect with Diane. Thank you!!!

  23. At age 91, most of my old friends are long gone. But they are still alive in my memory. They scar away a lot of loneliness.
    Thank you, JAJ for keeping me blogged.

  24. So sorry for the loss of your longtime friend and honorary family. You have so many happy memories that I know he will live in your hearts and minds forever. Thank you for sharing him with all of us through blogs, books, and in-person talks.

  25. Awww, this made me cry. As someone who loves decorating for Christmas,I would have loved this guy. Great memories that will last forever for you and your family.

  26. Great blog and love how you incorporate your real friends into your books! I recognized the name Jim Hunt right off and glad to know he was “ real”!

  27. A treasured and true friend brings beauty into one’s life through immeasurable ways.
    You are blessed to have such a friend.

  28. Loving tribute! How blessed you and your family were to have Jim in your life, and all of you in his. The Christmas decorations were icing on the cake…his affection for all of you came through over the years in multiple ways.
    Interesting how so many children experiencing trauma, as Jim did, have wonderful people enter their lives, providing what was missing in childhood, throughout their lives. Angels disguised as teachers, friends, friends’ parents, neighbors, work colleagues.

  29. What a lovely story and tribute to your dear friend. He sounds like an amazing man. May he rest in peace.

  30. Sorry that you lost your good friend! You’ll keep him alive in your memories I’m sure! And maybe he will turn up in a future book! I Loved “Nothing to Lose”! I’m thinking of starting reading Beaumont from the beginning. Thank you for All that you do!

  31. So sorry for your loss. What a tribute to him that you have so many wonderful memories!!

  32. As always, thank you for sharing this heartfelt story of your beautiful friend. We are so blessed when we can find just one friend we can share and depend on in our lives. When you are blessed with more than one, well, that’s truly a gift from God. May he be decorating heaven for all there now and for those to come later! Thanks again for sharing! The more you share; the more I love you! Sincerely, Teresa Leonard

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