With the right mindset, life is a continual learning process – from cradle to grave – and we should be eternally grateful for the people who come into our lives and show us how it should be done.
For me, the late James E. (Jim) Price was such a person, and lately I have found myself reflecting on his positive influences, after he died last month at the age of 80 at his retirement home near Wilmington, North Carolina. 
Jim was a native West Virginian, but he and his family lived in Jackson for many years. He graduated from Jackson High School in 1956 and he went on to have a very successful career in the financial business. At one time, he managed the Beneficial Finance office in Jackson and just prior to his retirement, he managed the Eagle Loan office in Chillicothe. He was very much in demand in his profession, but he finally surrendered to the temptations of sand, surf, mild winters, and the countless golf courses that coastal North Carolina could offer.
Fate brought Jim Price and I together in 1996 when my newspaper career took a monumental turn. A local businessman stepped forward to start a new newspaper in Jackson which was called The Jackson Times.  Myself and my wife Pam, as well as several others with local newspaper experience in news, advertising and graphics, were recruited and agreed to join the staff of the fledgling publication. Our group had experience in the newspaper business, but not much in the business of newspapers – a very important distinction.
Enter Jim Price – the right man at the right time in the right place. Jim was at a point in his career where he was able and willing to take over the general manager’s job at least temporarily, even though he certainly could have made a lot more money and endured less stress on familiar turf in the financial business. I think he did it because he liked a challenge and knew we needed him.
Jim Price was not a newspaperman and didn’t pretend to be; he let the rest of us do our jobs, largely as we knew best and saw fit. What Jim Price did know about was business and management – everything from budgeting, to operations, to personnel, to customer relations, public relations and everything else in between. His business expertise and management skills were certainly crucial given the fact that The Jackson Times was starting from scratch and competing in Jackson against an established chain-owned newspaper, The Jackson-Vinton Journal-Herald, in what was a relatively small market. A professional newspaper consultant enthusiastically mentored us, but also threw out the sober warning that our odds of survival past one year were only 7 percent.
I learned many business and life lessons from Jim, but I will mention only a few examples in this space: 
-- When a staffer at the newspaper wasn’t cutting it and was becoming a problem, Jim quickly acted to make a necessary change. The lesson: The whole of a business or team must be greater than the sum of its parts and you can’t let one person’s interest become more important than that of the entire group. Do what you have to do dispassionately and move on.
-- Jim had a pleasant, easygoing personality, but he was not afraid to ruffle feathers when he felt something had to be done or said. Yet he never came across as overbearing or imperious. The lesson: Be direct. Be honest. Say what you mean and mean what you say. People will respect you in the long run for being forthright. He was our leader, but never cast himself as the Lord and Master.
-- While Jim was a strong leader who always had the business mission in mind, he was also amiable and approachable on a personal level. He was always friendly and chatty with all the employees and took an interest in their work and their lives. He knew that to be a good communicator, listening and having empathy were as important as talking. I think he learned early in his managerial career that a happy employee is a more productive employee and he did many little things to help cultivate a positive atmosphere in the office.
 As it turned out, The Jackson Times passed that one-year threshold and was continuing to grow in spite of a tight and limited budget. In September of 1997, a new newspaper chain came to Jackson, the Brown Publishing Co., and bought both The Jackson Times and The Jackson-Vinton Journal-Herald. A brand new newspaper was formed, The Times-Journal, which involved employees from both of the old competing newspapers, but with new ownership and a new general manager. 
This was Jim Price’s cue to exit the newspaper business and find new challenges. However, a positive professional relationship had also become a personal friendship and Pam and I remained very close friends with him until his death, some 22 years later. He was a very good boss, but an even better friend and we will miss him very much, always.
It is still hard for us to grasp that he is really gone. But that is the Circle of Life; and this “Irish Blessing” comes to mind:
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May the road rise up to meet you;
May the wind be always at your back;
May the sun shine warm upon your face;
The rains fall soft upon your fields;
And until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of His hand.

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Jim may be gone, but for me, his lessons and his example will guide me for the rest of my days. I like to think it’s the ultimate compliment, when I catch myself saying: “What would Jim do?”
So long, dear friend, until we meet again, and thank you.
Love,
Pete and Pam

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MEMORIAL SERVICE THIS SUNDAY
Jim’s family and local friends will have a group opportunity to memorialize him at a “Celebration of Life” event, at 2 p.m. this Sunday, March 31 at the Lewis & Gillum Funeral Home on Harding Avenue in Jackson (calling hours for friends and family, beginning at 1 p.m.).
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That’s About It… Be Seeing You.