Sunday, January 27, 2013

Jim Montgomery: A Man In Full

From Sunday's Times and News-Star

For the first time and probably the last, I heard “Captain Hook’s Waltz” from “Peter Pan” played at a funeral. At Jim Montgomery’s, of course.  

“Who would stoop to the cheapest and lowest
“Of tricks in the book?
“Blame me, slay me,
“Captain Hook

“Captain Hook’s Waltz.” Banging off the high ceiling of Centenary’s Brown Chapel last Wednesday morning. Something you don’t hear every day.

But then, Jim Montgomery was the kind of guy you’d don’t run across every day. If you meet two like him you’re lucky, three and you’ve shattered the odds.  

Jim had played the role of Capt. Hook years before. The reviews were rave. It was a role tailor-made. Expressive. Loud. BIG. Comedy in a villain. A chance for a country boy in love with the arts like Jim to romp and stomp and sing and be something different for a few nights than a tie-wearing, deep-thinking editorial page ink-stained wretch or grant writer or community icon. Many called it, for Jim Montgomery, the role of a lifetime.

And they’re close. It was. Almost.

But the role he played best was that of himself. And that was the role of a lifetime.

He wasn’t always comfortable in it. As a newspaper man and as a decent citizen duty-bound to his adopted twin cities, he wanted things that needed to be done to get done, and correctly. Sometimes it seemed he was always carrying the heavy end. That takes a lot out of a guy. Not many are cut out for the role. Or can handle it.

He was not immune to depression. Not above digging into a bunker and staying there for a while.

But he emerged. Always. Learned that in Springhill, his hometown. You show up. Work. Do the right thing. Go to bed tired. Take up for the little guy.

We were lucky to have him. I won’t recite the laundry list of accomplishments, but he loved himself a plaque on the wall, and he earned every one.

He was foremost a writer and writers are never really off the clock, so all the time he was both cosmopolitan and a country boy, private and public, a funny guy and a deep thinker. He was, as former Shreveport mayor Keith Hightower said, “Google” for Shreveport-Bossier before Google was Google. When “Prairie Home Companion” visited Municipal Auditorium this summer, they called Jim the day before. Jim was in the audience for Garrison Keillor’s opening monologue. “It’s like hearing myself talk on the phone yesterday,” Jim said.

He was both smart and wise, full of both serious information and trivia, full of both good deeds and full of…well, cleverness. He loved to laugh. His friends adored him.

Those friendships were far-reaching. Usually at funerals, you know just about everyone there. But at Jim’s, I knew maybe a tenth of the crowd. He was smart enough and wide enough in his interests that his life overlapped the lives of so many others.

I wish I had space to tell you the stories, even just the couple of times he invited me to eat at nice places with him and friends because he knew I needed the company and the exposure to “the finer things,” and because he knew he could cover for me while I got acclimated. It took me a long time to figure out he was just stealthily running interference for another bumpkin.

He did more than hire me to write columns at The Times. In so many ways, he was my Captain.