My plane left early the next morning, and by Saturday afternoon, my mom was tightly wrapped in my arms - and the arms of so many others. Loved ones from all over the country descended on Greenville, South Carolina that third week of May - and it was amazing. Mom had wanted for Jim's funeral to be a happy celebration of his life, and so we pulled together an Irish Wake style-program that included singing and dancing and libations. Mom believes that it is barbaric to view the deceased, so although Jim's body wasn't there - his spirit most definitely was.
After the eulogies, the whole congregation joined together to sing some of Jim's favorites including, "When Irish Eyes are Smiling" and "The Man on the Flying Trapeze." And then we closed with "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" which was most fitting, seeing as Jim - in the words of our pastor - was born in the Grandstands... as the grandson, nephew and son of professional baseball players.
This is a link to the photo tribute that I'd pulled together which we shared with everyone at the service (it starts with Jim's grandfather, uncle and father playing ball!) And this is the eulogy that I delivered (which was just one of several; so many had kind words to share about the one and only Jim!):
I first met Jim Cooney when I was 10-years old … it was a Sunday morning at 7 AM and he and his wife, Pat, were playing tennis with a group from the Greenville Unitarian Universalist Fellowship down in Cleveland Park. Back in 1981, the tennis courts were just in front of the zoo. Between the thump and whack of tennis balls, we would hear the lions roar – as they woke up for the day. That was 35 years ago, when the GUUFs were a small group that met at a house on Buist Avenue.
Jim and Pat taught me how to play tennis. They would patiently stand on one side of the net and toss me balls, one after another, while instructing me how to step in and follow-through on my swing. They say that tennis is the only game where love doesn’t count, but I’m sure it was largely because of the love that the Cooney’s showed me on the tennis court, that I made the varsity tennis team in high school; earned a tennis scholarship to college, and met my husband, Charlie, when we played each other for the intramural tennis championship at university in California.
Jim and Pat Cooney were not only PRESENT in my life, they were PRESENTS in my life. They were present at my high school tennis tournaments; they were present at my high school graduation. And when I married, they were present at my wedding. In my vocabulary, their names are synonymous with friendship, generosity, kindness, loyalty, and love.
I’ll never forget the day Pat presented my mother with a brand new graphite Prince tennis racquet. Up until that point, mom had been playing with an old aluminum racquet and that Prince made all the difference in her game. I’ll also never forget the day when a year after our beloved Pat passed, Jim and my mother drove from South Carolina to California to spend Thanksgiving with me and my husband. And thus began a wonderful companionship between Jim and my mom.
The way I see it, Pat actually gifted my mother two Princes … one was a racquet. The other was Jim. And like the tennis racquet - he too, made ALL the difference in her game. He made a difference in ALL of our games. I am so grateful for the love and companionship that Jim has given to my mother … for the love and joy that Jim has given to my mother’s children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. Jim really has been a gift for our family. Even when he beat us diving to the bottom of the pool for quarters, whipped those of us 40 years his junior on the tennis courts without breaking a sweat, and swiftly defeated us a in a game of cards, he promised he’d never played before in his life.
Every. Single. Time. He said – “Oh, it’s just beginner’s luck!”
These past 15 years have been an amazing adventure for my Mom and Jim, and for all of us who had the privilege to witness their devoted companionship. My mother was so proud of her handsome husband, and I know it was such an honor for her to be with him.
Jim was a humble man – who took such pride in his appearance - always presenting himself so well. His shirt would be tucked in, and his waist belted. His loafers were clean, his pants pressed. Jim never bragged about his own accomplishments, but was so proud of his roots – and his family.
Jim was a decent man - who never let a lady open her own door, and the last time I saw him, he still insisted on carrying MY luggage. Jim was never loud or offensive, but always soft-spoken and kind. Well, except for when there was a game to be won and someone had a ball in their hand.
Above everything else, Jim wasn’t just a gentleman, but truly a GENTLE MAN. In his obituary it read that among other things, “Jim loved children.” The longer I live , the more I know that the greatest testament to person’s character is the way that they respond to children. Jim really did love children. And all the little “Sport-o’s and Kid-o’s” that crossed his path, really loved him, too.
Before I step down, I know that my mother would like for me to thank so many people who have helped them and given them such strength the past few years. My sister Marylou – who never stops giving. My Aunt Grace and the Finnell’s; Jon and Marion Grier, Bo and Suzi Boghani, Pat Dillow, Jackie Weddington and the entire UU community, your friendship means more than words can convey.
Now Mom, I know that Jim and Pat would also like for me to THANK YOU: for the love and devotion that you showed to the two of them. Just as Jim gave you so much these past few years, you gave Jim so much, too. No one could have cared for Jim like you did – and he was so grateful for you. You held him in your heart, and last Friday at 6:00 PM, at the exact time the two of you would have been toasting a sunset at the end of another wonderful day in Florida – you tenderly held him in your arms and lovingly made sure he didn’t leave this world alone.
Mom - you are an amazing gift to every soul you touch!
He was Jimbo to all of us, and because he was so deeply loved, he will be so deeply missed. At 92-years of age – the toast that Jim always gave, “Salud Dinero – Y Tiempo Para Disfrutalos!” was something he achieved in his own life. Jim had health, he had wealth, and he had the time to enjoy them. But he also had mucho amor …. So Much Love. And of all the gifts – that is the greatest of all!
Dear God, may we will all be so lucky to have such a wonderful, healthy, love-filled RICH life as our beloved Jimbo!