|What we lost was a friend
Published Tuesday, November 18, 2003
I didn't know until
Monday that Jim Matthews was a descendent of Stockton's own
It's one of those
biographical notes you learn about a person when you start
pulling together the details of his life.
In 18 years of
working with him and becoming his friend, what I knew about
Jim, who suffered a fatal heart attack Monday, one day after
celebrating his 58th birthday, was that he loved sports, he
loved his country, and he loved his family.
Jim was an Air
Force medic who served two tours of duty in Vietnam. He joined
the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints while in the
military, and it was rare when he wasn't wearing a BYU hat or
sweat shirt. No matter where he sat down to work at The
Record, where he assembled the agate page four nights a week,
he had a radio nearby tuned in to some sports event or,
lacking that, a station that played rock 'n' roll oldies.
His memory of
sports details was encyclopedic. The starting tackle on the
1981 Stagg team? Jim was your man. The score of a high school
basketball game held two years ago? Ask Jim. The starting
lineup of the Stockton Ports' 1986 California League
championship team? Jim could tell you.
Some people use
the Internet. The Record sports department used Jim Matthews.
He knew the
nickname of every college team out there, no matter how
obscure. We know. We tried often enough to stump him.
interest in sports wasn't because of trivial details. It was
because of the players.
''He loved young
people. He was interested in them. He loved it when kids went
on and had success,'' said his wife of 28 years, Ruth. ''When
Ed Sprague Jr. made it to the major leagues, he was proud of
things like that.''
The Record in 1976, worked a few years as the preps editor,
then left for other ventures and remained as a part-time
employee. What he loved about the job was covering games.
He worked in the
loan industry for a while. Ten years ago, he went to work at
the Youth Authority, teaching at DeWitt Nelson. But at night,
he'd come into The Record, endure good-natured teasing about
BYU or Notre Dame, another of his favorites, smile when he was
addressed as Joltin' Jim Matthews or Jimmy Matts, and help put
out the paper.
''The thing about
Jim was that he was one of the most knowledgeable sports
people around,'' sports editor Sam Smith said. ''Ask him a
question, and you could use it as fact.''
editor Mike Klocke, The Record's managing editor, marveled at
his longevity in a transient business.
''What struck me
was after doing this almost 30 years, how excited he was to be
going out to a game, regardless of the game or what the teams
were,'' Klocke said.
Jim didn't need
to do the ''big game.'' They were all big to him, because they
involved local kids who invested their time and effort in
The only kids he
cared about more were his own: Anthony, 24, a girls basketball
coach at St. Mary's High; Carolyn, 23, whom he walked down the
aisle a year ago; and Blake, 21, who returned in September
from a two-year church mission in Brazil.
bragged about his accomplishments, never spent much time
talking about what he had done, but he loved talking about
those three. He would share the latest news from St. Mary's.
He glowed when he brought in pictures from his daughter's
Blake, was valedictorian at Stagg High and a Pinnacle Award
winner. Knowing he was going on his mission, he deferred a
scholarship to BYU to attend Delta College for a year. At the
Pinnacle Awards ceremony, Blake told the crowd he was heading
to Delta, not mentioning his mission plans. The next day,
several people called the Matthews home wanting to set up
financial aid so he could attend a four-year university. Jim
was so tickled by those calls, and I remember how he laughed
when he told the story.
Now back from his
mission, Blake told his mother he didn't know if he should go
on to school as planned. She told him he had to. It was his
father's dream for his son to attend BYU.
''As much as he
tried to be a conservative Mormon, he became one of the most
fanatical,'' Ruth Matthews said. ''Not that he shoved it down
people's throats, but it meant a lot to him.''
pride in his devotion, as he took pride in his country.
He enlisted in
1965 and went to Vietnam in 1966. He re-upped and spent three
years as a medic. It hurt him to see Vietnam veterans treated
so poorly when they returned home, and he took solace in the
change of attitude toward them in later years. He once talked
about watching a Veterans Day program about Vietnam and how it
brought tears to his eyes.
One thing he
wanted to do was visit the Vietnam Memorial in Washington,
Jim also wanted
to retire from the Youth Authority and go back to school to
earn a teaching credential. He wanted to be around kids, and
he longed for success stories by his students like the ones he
witnessed by athletes he covered.
That he won't be
able to do that is a loss for untold future students.
What those who
knew him lost was a gentle soul, a compassionate, thoughtful,
caring friend. In a me-first era, Jim Matthews was as selfless
as they came.
until we find someone who can fill his position.
But we'll never
replace Jim Matthews.