Jimmy understood people. When he decided to talk me into coming from Durham, N.C., to become the culture editor in 1997, he quickly figured out that the road to my heart was through my stomach. After years in the South, I missed the variety of people and foods of my hometown, Chicago. So when I flew up there to talk about the job, he took me for Thai, then Cuban, and for the next meal gave me a choice of seven ethnic groups. On the way to ITT, he pointed out how the signs suddenly changed from all Polish to all Spanish. “It’s the Polish-Mexican border,” he said.
For almost a year, I commuted from North Carolina, spending a week a month in Chicago, staying with Jimmy and Beth. They were good to me, generous. They fed me, made me feel at home, and we told each other our stories. Jimmy told of working in factories, joining the Communist Party, driving Julius Rosenberg, of his poker games, of starting ITT. He had more and better adventures than most people, or he told about them better, or both.
The story of mine he liked best was about my father who had been a Chicago policeman. He thought it was pretty funny that Dad had worked undercover on the Red Squad in the ’50s, keeping an eye on Communists.
Jimmy appreciated how everyone’s story was full of twists. Paradoxes. That understanding must have been how he could rail about politics and maintain hope. And why his politics and his company were always so lively.