by Dr. Michael F. McLean
President, Thomas Aquinas College
April 2, 2013
I want to thank the Barrett family for giving me this opportunity to speak about Jim.
As the president of Thomas Aquinas College, a Catholic liberal arts college specializing in the Great Books, I think it is fair to say that I was best acquainted with Jim’s philosophical or religious side … his spiritual side, if you will.
I first met Jim in 1987. Over the years, he and Judy attended many of our summer seminars and contributed with great passion and intelligence to countless literary, philosophical, and theological discussions. Jim’s interests ranged from Shakespeare to Aquinas, from Aristotle to Pascal. He lightened things up one year when he came dressed to a Shakespeare seminar as King Lear, and we enjoyed it when he would occasionally take a peek at Judy’s notes as he got ready to make a contribution to the conversation.
Jim gave us a bit of a scare one year when he arrived on campus for dinner nearly blind in one eye after landing his plane at the Oxnard airport. Another of our dinner guests, Henry Zeiter, an eye doctor from Stockton — whom Jim did not know — sat Jim down, pushed his head back, forced his eye open and said, “OK, I see the problem. I’m an eye doctor — don’t worry.…” Henry then picked up a table knife and used it to flick a tiny piece of dirt out of Jim’s eye. They then began to drink their Chateau Montelena wine and became lifelong friends. Henry and his wife, Carol, are with us today.
I was privileged to read an early draft of Jim’s book, A Pilgrim’s Journey , and was deeply honored when he asked me to write an endorsement for it. The table-knife episode illustrates a point Jim made more than once in his book: “Faith is a reality of every person’s life, every bit as much as Reason,” he wrote. “Faith and Reason together are essential … the question, the fundamental question, is Faith in what?”
“We have faith,” Jim said, “even in those we don’t know: when getting into an airplane or an elevator” or, he might have said, when we buy a struggling winery or when the eye doctor picks up a table knife. Jim had faith … faith in God; in God’s Son, Jesus Christ; in the Catholic Church, whatever its failings; in his family; in his friends; in his employees; in young people, including the many young people he helped at our College and elsewhere through many years — faith that they would lead lives of loving service to their Church, their country, and their communities.
“I believe in Faith, Hope, and Love,” Jim wrote, “and I give thanks daily for the gifts and talents God has given me. I believe my Faith is illuminated by reason and certified by my conscience. I believe that with God’s grace, given and poured out by the Holy Spirit, that I shall see God face-to-face once my soul has been purified and is without blemish — a perfect human being, a Son of God.”
Were he with us today, I think Jim would say to us what he says in his book: “The most important story in your life is Your Story. You are the main character in the drama and you are the playwright. Likewise for me. I hope to tell my story, and I hope you tell yours, by our actions, day by day, as if our lives depend on it — as they surely do, both in this world and in the next.”
Jim’s life tells a great story. Let’s hope that our lives do so as well.
I know that I speak for all of us here, and for all of us at Thomas Aquinas College, when I say to Judy and to the family that we are grateful for having known Jim and that we call upon the angels to bring him home.