Friday, December 2, 2016

James Steven Carroll, A Friend Remembered

by Rocky Macy


James Steven Carroll

18 December 1950 – 27 November 2016

My friend, James Steven Carroll, passed away last Sunday evening at Freeman Hospital in Joplin, Missouri.  He had been comatose since suffering a stroke at his home in Noel, Missouri, on November 16th.  James was sixty-five-years-old at the time of his death.

James is survived by his wife, Patti Gough Carroll, and two grown sons, Anthony and Ryan.  He was a retired U.S. Mail carrier, former businessman, and had served a couple of terms as mayor of Noel.

James was unique in that he was known by each of his two given names, with relatives always calling him Steven – never Steve – and friends and acquaintances referring to him as James – never Jim or Jimmy.   It could get a bit confusing at times when a mixed group of relatives and friends were present, but James never seemed to struggle in maintaining the dual identity.

James Carroll and I became friends sometime in the early 1960’s when I was starting high school and had just been employed to run the projectors at the old Ozark Theatre in Noel.    James was probably in junior high then, though at the old Noel School the grades 1-12 just sort of flowed together.  He lived with his family in a big house next door to the theatre and gradually started hanging out in the projection booth when I was there, learning to operate the machines.

Several years later while James Carroll and I were both attending Southwest Missouri State University in Springfield, Missouri, we roomed together at the iconic Kingsbarde Apartments just off of campus (now the site of the large fountain in front of the university’s main library).   Our apartment was on the ground floor and his sister, Mollie, lived upstairs.  When we moved in we asked the landlord, Willis Jones, if we could paint.  Because he planned on selling the apartment building to the college and knew that it would eventually be torn down, Mr. Jones didn’t actually care – so he told us to have at it.  We painted the main room of the small apartment dark blue with bright white trim, and covered the floor with a patchwork affair that we made by gluing carpet samples to bed sheets.   The project was planned by James, one of the early examples of his emerging creativity.

Our apartment was always open to friends, and some of the most interesting people at the university could be found visiting there from time to time.  Once a photographer from the school's newspaper, The Southwest Standard, stopped by and snapped a few shots.  One of the pictures he took was of James reading a book in the light of an old floor lamp - and that photo went on to be the entire front page of that week's Standard, an issue which promoted studying for finals' week.

During that time that James and I roomed together, we were also co-workers at the Tower Theatre in Springfield where we each pulled shifts running the projectors.  One difference we quickly discovered between small town movie theatres and those in the bigger cities – like Springfield – was that while little show houses changed movies every weekend, the large single-screen theatres of the city usually played movies until people quit coming to see them.  One of our running jokes was to suddenly quote long segments of dialogue from The Sterile Cuckoo, a Liza Minnelli film that ran for more than thirty showings at the Tower.  Watching movies over, and over, and over did get monotonous, and it could be more tortuous than water-boarding!

James and Patti returned to Noel after college where they eventually purchased the Ozark Theatre and operated it for several years.  They had employed my oldest son, Nick, then a young teen, to sell concessions at the Ozark the night before the landmark building burned to the ground due to its old, worn wiring.  It was sort of fitting that on its last night of existence, the Ozark Theatre was being staffed by the Carroll family as well as a Macy.

Living in a river community like Noel helped James to develop a true appreciation of the outdoors.  Many of my best memories of him were from times that we floated sections of the Elk River or went on camping trips.  One of those canoe trips occurred on Saturday, June 10, 1967, when we floated from just below the damn in Noel to Highway 43 Bridge in northeastern Oklahoma.  I know the exact date because it was the Saturday  (the  final day) of what has come to be known as the  “Six-Day War” – a time when it looked as though the young state of Israel might be stirring things up in the Middle East to where the region would be beyond repair.  Much of our talk that Saturday as we floated the peaceful and clear waters of the Elk River centered on global politics and the ever-present threat of war.

James Carroll was a well-read and well-traveled individual who could speak with relative ease on many topics.    Though not an overtly religious person, he was quick to invoke the Christian principles of love, charity, and tolerance of others.

In trying to focus on what I want to say about the life of James Carroll, three areas seem to rise above all others:  his creative nature, his involvement in the community, and his dedication to others – particularly family members.

James Carroll had a broad creative streak.  He was an art major in college, and paintings that he did during that period of his life were always on display in the Carroll home.  When he and Patti relocated to Noel after college, his first foray into business was to set up a photography studio, an enterprise that they ran for several years, and one that gave James constant opportunities to showcase his creative abilities.  One of his projects as a commercial photographer one year at Christmas time was to set up a Santa display at the local grocery store and then take pictures of the little kids visiting with Santa Claus.  Somehow I let him talk me into playing Santa, and my son, Nick, who was about two at the time, got on my lap and started telling me what he wanted for Christmas - never realizing who Santa actually was!

James and Patti had an older home situated close to the river in Noel – a home that his parents had once owned.  James was constantly remodeling that old house.  It eventually contained an indoor swimming pool – the only one that I know of in Noel – and had a brick exterior that James did himself over the course of several years.

Another area in which James expressed his creativity was in writing.   He penned two fantasy novels which he self-published – and both  Sarren  and Sarren Beryond Sarus were quite good.  Patti served as his proofreader on those projects.   (Sarren was reviewed in this blog several years ago.)

James also did some work in producing short informational films.  I stopped by his house a few years ago just as he and Anthony were working on a short film about the hydrologic (water) cycle, which promotes the idea that the amount of water on earth remains relatively constant through the natural processes of rainfall and evaporation.   James regarded that notion as flawed because, he explained, water used in making concrete was lost forever.  He contended that large cement projects like dams, buildings, and expansive parking lots drain significant amounts of water out of the hydrologic cycle – permanently.  It was something that I had never considered, but it was important to James.

James, the father of Chef Anthony Carroll, also expressed himself creatively through cooking.  While we were rooming together during college, his signature dishes were chili (the hellfire variety) and lasagna – and both were delicious!   Years later when I was principal of the Noel School (then a K-8), James was one of our more involved school parents.  At a PTA meeting he suggested that we have a chili supper fundraiser – and then he volunteered himself and me to make the chili – which we prepared and served to literally hundreds of local school friends and patrons.  As I remember it, we had two varieties that night, “regular” and “industrial strength,” and both proved to be quite popular!

Cooking for that chili supper was also an example of James’ penchant for serving his community.  Any time the school had a need, James was one of the “steady Eddies” whom we knew we could rely on.  When a job needed doing, such as the rebuilding of the school’s playground, James Carroll was there, equipment-in-hand, ready to get to work. 

James painted theatrical flats and set them up for school programs as well as for amateur productions of our local Elk River Little Theatre.   James, who had experience in running the lights in an off-Broadway production that his sister, Mollie Carroll, put on in New York City, was also quick to design and arrange sets for our local needs as well as to operate the lighting.  The one area where he was not comfortable, however, was in appearing on stage.  He could never be coaxed into a performing role.

James Carroll was a literal pillar of his community.  In addition to the aforementioned work with the school and the local little theatre, James was a formidable presence in city government.   As the mayor of Noel, he struggled to represent all elements of the community and not just the moneyed interests and the people whose families had been there for generations.  As the nature of the town began changing with the rapid influx of Hispanics, and then Somalis, into the community,  Mayor Carroll sought to understand the culture and the needs of Noel’s newest citizens.  

I happened to be with James one time when an irate Hispanic family aired their grievances to him regarding bullies at the county high school – a subject over which the mayor had no control – but he listened patiently and offered both support and suggestions for action.  He also recognized the resentment from some corners of the community toward the Somali immigrants who were of a different skin color and many of whom practiced a religion that was reviled by some elements of society.  In trying to establish some common ground with the Muslim Somalis, James set and accomplished a personal goal of reading their religious text, The Koran, cover-to-cover, so that he would have a better understanding of this significant segment on Noel's population.   He took his position as the town’s elected leader very seriously.

Finally, I would like to stress the commitment that James Carroll had for others, particularly members of his family.   He and Patti took their boys on some wonderful vacations as they were growing up.  A couple of sojourns in recent years included a trip that James and Patti and Anthony took to China to visit Ryan who spent several years living and working there – as well as a family trip last year in which James, Patti, and Ryan (and Blue – the family dog), drove cross-country in a rented van to visit Anthony who was living and working on the Massachusetts seacoast.

James Carroll was the youngest child in a family with five kids.  He also became the one who was nearby to comfort and take care of his parents, a nurse and a mechanic, as they made their exits from this world, and he acted in a caretaker role for two of his siblings as they were passing out of this life and into the next.  He and Patti were also on hand and involved in the last days of her parents and one of her sisters.

James Carroll was a man who was always there for others.   He demonstrated how to be a good person through example and deed, and his many kindnesses are a legacy that will outlast and outshine the edifices of stone and metal that lesser men have built to themselves.  When it came to being a good human being, James was the real thing.

James Steven Carroll was the friend of a lifetime – my very best friend.   I will always feel fortunate that our paths crossed as early as they did, and that I had the better part of a lifetime to enjoy the friendship and wisdom that James provided.  Rest in peace, Old Friend – God knows you’ve earned it.

1 comment:

Mary Diane Stroope said...

Good Morning Rocky,

I am Diane Tallas now Stroope and for 10 years my family and I lived in Noel, Mo. Perhaps you remember me. You gave me rides on your scooter. I was a Jr. Varsity cheerleader with your sister Gail. And I was a classmate and friend of James Carroll. I didn't know James as an adult and the last time I saw him we were in 9th grade. We moved away from Noel in 1965 after my brother John graduated from Noel High School. I have fond memories of James, he was a nice guy. His parents were very nice people too and I attended parties James had at his house. One party I remember well. We were in 7th grade and James had a record player with 45's playing. He asked me to dance to "Hey Paula" and now I think of James when I hear the song "Hey Paula". He was a nice friend and everyone liked him. What a talented man he grew up to be. I was saddened to hear of his passing. God bless him and his wife Patti and his sons and family. May he rest in peace. Rocky, I enjoyed your article very much about James, thank you for sharing your memories of James. I would love to see a current picture of James. Could you e-mail me one or post one of him on your blog site?

Regards, Diane Tallas Stroope