By the time we learned that Jim had brain cancer, our dear friend was heading to hospice.
Jim Samuels wasn’t just our friend.
He was everybody’s friend.
His Super Bowl parties were legendary. He was one of the few Jewish guys I ever met who cared about sports. I’m not sure he actually did, he just loved bringing people together.
The great connector died July 30. Jim was 68.
Some people collect coins or stamps or baseball cards. Jim collected people. I am so fortunate to have been one of them. He kept every friend he ever made. My dear friend Cheryl Davis, who was one of Jim’s closest friends, said, “If you can only have one friend, pick Jim.”
We were lucky he picked us.
Every friend Jim made became a lifelong friend. He was so easy to love and he made it seem like you were easy to love, even those of us who aren’t, like me.
Once Cheryl asked Jim to pet her cat while she was gone. He did and even texted her the proof in a photo.
Jim made you want to be a better person. He was the guy who never missed a funeral, who always took your call, who rarely said an unkind word.
Every winter, a hundred-plus trudged through the snow to his Moreland Hills home where he had stacks of pizza, tables of decadent desserts and the biggest TV screen created.
One summer, he went with us on vacation for a week. The Outer Banks of North Carolina offered sun, sand and endless sea. Jim wanted more. He didn’t know what to do with himself. Jim suffered from FOMO, or "Fear of Missing Out." He had one setting: On. And because of that, he wanted to be everywhere, everywhere the action was.
How fitting that we got the news that he died the morning we left for our annual vacation. My husband and I talked about Jim during the 11-hour drive. Later that week, we sat in our hotel room and watched his funeral streaming live.
The eulogies called him decent, loyal, kind. They said he was the first to arrive, the last to leave and the one who made everyone feel like they truly mattered.
They talked about his love for his faith, his family, his friends.
They joked about how we used to call Jim a “serial dater.” He dated just about every woman in Cleveland and magically stayed friends with them all. I never heard any of the women say a bad word about him. Only that he was “too nice.”
He was that big teddy bear of a guy, with beady brown eyes, glasses and a comb-over of brown hair that didn’t stand a chance covering that big head of his.
Jim found the perfect life partner when he found Ofelia Bernstein, who “cracked the Jim code,” as someone said at his funeral. She grounded him, steadied him and supported him always.
Jim was goofy. He’d call his nephew Hank “Hanky.” He’d leave a phone message saying it was “Slim Jamuels” calling. He was so corny, that sometimes even he would groan at what came out of his mouth.
He would instantly switch to “Mr. Serious” when it came to his work as senior vice president at Guggenheim Commercial Real Estate or his love for Israel. Jim dedicated his life to tikkun olam, to making the world whole. He was like a kid plugging holes in a leaky dike; he had his fingers in everything, trying to make a difference, trying to stop someone else’s pain.
Jim was a longtime member of Anshe Chesed Fairmount Temple in Beachwood. He also left his mark on Federation, Leadership Cleveland, the Wexner Heritage Foundation, the National Conference on Soviet Jewry, the Cleveland Jewish National Fund, Jewish Family Service Association, Cleveland Hillel Foundation, Playhouse Square Foundation and Menorah Park.
I love that he was co-chair of his high school reunion for 40 years. Yes, he was that guy. The one everyone loved. The one everyone could count on.
That’s why Anshe Chesed Fairmount Temple in Beachwood created the James A. Samuels Social Action Fund. Those are two perfect words to describe Jim: social and action.
Rest in peace? Not a chance. Not Jim.
Even as he lay dying, his room was a confetti mess of sticky notes and cards. The constant stream of visitors led one nurse to ask, “Who is this man? A celebrity?”
Yes, Jim Samuels was a celebrity.
He was our VIP, famous for putting everyone else first.