I learned today my friend Jim Munford has died. Jim had to be ninety, and had been frail from the first time I met him in in the winter of 2002. The fact that learning of his death was not wholly unexpected does not make it any easier.
I know only passing bits of Jim's earlier life. He was a merchant seaman, and lived in New York for much of the Fifties and Sixties. A professional photographer, it was Jim who showed me how photography could be an art form. As someone with never more than a passing interest in the visual arts, I once took the Sole heir for a day trip from Maryland to Manhattan to see an exhibit of Jim's work. Had I been employed then, I might have bought any one of several of his photos.
I knew him best as a writer, though he didn't do a lot of writing during the too brief time of our acquaintance. (Commercial interest in his early photography picked up late in his life, and he became engrossed in capturing his images digitally.) We met as peers during a semester in George Washington University's Jenny Moore McKean program, that year taught by John McNally. Frankly, I thought of Jim as a bit of a prick early on, an attitude that fell away as my knowledge of writing grew. He had an insightful way of cutting through to the crux of the weaknesses of any piece, and came to be one of my most trusted advisers for writing problems during the years a rump group from McNally's class continued to meet periodically at Jim's home.
Jim was an audiophile and lover of classic jazz. He often had a vinyl LP of some great trumpeter playing when I arrived at his house, and would make me guess who it was. (Fortunately, I was better than fifty-fifty.) He could converse intelligently on more subjects than I am even aware of, and was a gentle soul who tirelessly encouraged the rest of us at every opportunity, remembering drafts and fragments of stories years later, asking we were going to something with a character we'd long ago given up on.
I have no idea what kind of father or husband he was, or what his personal habits might have been as a young man. The gentleman I knew-- and I never met a more gentle man--was a pleasure, and I never failed to look forward to our monthly visits. Now, as is always the case in these circumstances, I only wish I had made time for more of them.