Saturday, July 22, 2017

Jim Vance Was the Best of Us

Jim Vance has died at the age of 75. He worked at NBC 4, here in Washington, for 48 years, and he was anchor for 45 years.

Jim Vance was a friend. Not a close friend, but we knew each other well enough that when we ran into each other in Georgetown on a dark side street some year back, we both stopped to chat. This was a day or two after DC mayor Marion Barry had been caught smoking crack in a hotel room. Marion Barry had asked for Jim to come counsel him at home, even as reporters circled the house like vultures on a carcass. Jim had sorted his own drug problems a few years earlier. I told Jim I had just seen him on the news. Jim laughed. I laughed.

How long had he known Barry? Jim said that was the weird thing: they didn't really know each other. It was a small town, but they hung out in different waters.  I said that Barry had been a bright light and a powerhouse that most people did not know and appreciate. I clicked through his accomplishments at SNCC, his coming to Washington wearing a dashiki, his school board work, his work on the city council, his getting shot in the ass by the Hanafi Muslims in March of 77. Jim wasn't expecting a white guy to know this much about Marion Barry or to say anything good about him. No one was defending Marion Barry back then; he was a convenient demon for those who feared the rise of non-white political power.

"I get Marion," I said. "What I don't get is Effi" his wife. Why was she staying with him?"

Jim said he thought Effi was one of those born-again Christian types who, when she said "to have and to hold until death do us part," meant it.

I asked Jim if he thought Barry was mostly addicted to dope or women. "He's got a dick problem," Jim said, 'but it's all connected. If he's not in at least three 12-Step programs at the end, he's going to be in denial."

And we both laughed.

That was Jim Vance: smart, funny, caring, and uncomplicated.   He was a little bit street-wise and a very clear thinker.  He made you feel comfortable. He was the best of us. And now he is gone.

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