Sunday, October 27, 2019

My friend Jim (again)

A couple of weeks ago, I got an email from Jim Lippard, chairman of the board of directors for the Davidson County Sports Hall of Fame.

For the most part, the email wasn't unusual. We were just hours away from the 18th annual induction ceremony, and for fellow board members such as myself (I've been on the board for nine years, several of them as the board's secretary. So Jim is kind of my boss), the email was designed to pump us up for the event. He does that every year.

Jim Lippard takes command and points the way...
 About halfway through the email, though, Jim announced (in a sort of 'Oh, by the way' insert) that he was closing down his tailor shop. You know, that modest little building on First Avenue that was once a bus stop and that he converted into his iconic tailor shop. You know, that building. He spent 36 years there, altering hems, stitching sleeves, sewing up loose ends, connecting with his customers, almost always with a joke on his tongue and a smile on his face. And now, at age 83, he decided it was time for retirement, effective the end of this month.

That was news that took my breath away. My brain suddenly clicked into flashback mode.

I came to Lexington in September of 1976 as a 25-year-old rookie sports writer for The Dispatch. There were two people I soon met who, little did I know at the time, would have an impact on my life.

One of them was Charlie England. It was football season when I arrived in Lexington, and Charlie was the quarterback coach for the Lexington Yellow Jackets. He befriended me almost immediately and helped me get my footing as I learned the ropes about town.

The other fellow was Jim. I met him in the spring, when the Post 8 American Legion baseball season began. Jim, I guess, was a member of Post 8 (he is a Korean War era veteran and served as an MP, if I have my story straight. He also played baseball for Post 8 in his youth). But mostly, it seemed, he was the team photographer. He was everywhere, home and away, getting everything into focus with what are now classic (maybe even antique) cameras. And somehow, we became casual friends. It probably had something to do with his irrepressible personality.

Then, in 1986, he became the team's athletic director. The rest, as they say, is well documented local history. Jim Leonard Post 8 soon dropped its financial sponsorship of the team for lack of money, and Jim started a fund-raising campaign to keep the team on the field, seeking corporate sponsorships (or even private sponsorships, whatever it took). It worked. To this day, Legion baseball at Holt-Moffitt Field is a welcome summer reprieve for many of us.

And our friendship grew.

He was inducted into the North Carolina American Legion Hall of Fame in 2000; he served as North Carolina American Legion Commissioner in 2008-09. He was the founding father of the Davidson County Sports Hall of Fame in 2002, and then he himself was inducted into the Hall in 2009. He is a recipient of the Order of the Long Leaf Pine.

Meanwhile, through all of this, he was hemming and ha-hawing away in his humble tailor shop, happily keeping Lexington in stitches.

You probably wouldn't think that the closing of a tailor shop would be a big deal, but then, maybe this wasn't just any tailor shop. People would stop by just to chat. I, for one, would pop in for what I thought would be a few minutes to talk about the county Hall of Fame, and end up staying for an hour.

It was that kind of place: friendly, casual, small-town Americana with a big heart, providing an essential service to the community. You could almost sense Norman Rockwell lurking in an unseen corner, waiting for the perfect moment to put it all on canvas.

Then you realize, we were always in the perfect moment. And we are always the canvas.

Thanks, Jim. Now go enjoy your retirement.

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