Gus Napier ’60 writes about his friend, James Alexander, Jr. ’60.
I vividly remember meeting Jim at Alpha Chi Rho, this big guy from the Bronx–tall, with a deep, booming voice that seemed to reverberate down into his very long legs; he had a crew cut and a steady, confident smile. Jim seemed inveterately friendly, full of energy and talk, and with a flair for the dramatic. He reached out to this shy kid from southern Georgia and he impressed him–among other ways–with his story of seeing man get caught halfway into a New York subway door just as the train was pulling out, and yanking the man free. The story makes a good metaphor for Jim: the rescuer, the giver; and the dramatist.
At Wesleyan Jim majored in religion, with minors in Spanish and biology. He was a swimmer, a member of Cardinal Key, and on the Freshman Orientation Committee. Joining after the initial pledge period, he was an enthusiastic member of AXP/EQV.
After graduating from Wesleyan in 1960, Jim went to medical school for a year (the rescuer), but his love of Theater (capital T) proved stronger, and he left to chase this dream. Singer, dancer and actor, he performed with Carol Burnett on the Garry Moore Show. For a couple of years he announced all the commercials for the Masters Golf Tournament, as well as doing numerous voice-over commercial spots. He also acted in soaps, including As the World Turns, and Days of Our Lives. He modeled in clothing, automobile, and cigarette advertisements, and appeared in Life magazine four times. He even appeared in a Frankenstein advertisement with Boris Karloff. Jim’s success in these public ventures got him invited twice to the White House for dinner–by Presidents Kennedy and Ford.
Running parallel with this theatrical side of Jim there was the giver and the helper. In 1962, while working as Assistant Director of Admissions/Recruiting at New York University, Jim wrote a proposal for a counseling department “model” that included the role of college consultant. The head of the counseling program at Highland Park High School (in Highland Park, Illinois) saw this proposal, and hired Jim to implement it. There, Jim created the oldest counseling resource center in the country, a center that helped students not only with college planning but with career planning and with the larger issues of the post-high school world.
In his 34 years at Highland Park, Jim was wellspring of energy and creativity. He created a system in which students saw one counselor for all four years; he was deeply committed to providing equal access to counseling for all students, including minority students and those with learning disabilities; he pioneered the use of the computer in providing college and career information and referral. He visited countless colleges, made hundreds of speeches, consulted widely, and was a tireless advocate for Highland Park and its students. Jim worked with students’ families in doing long-term educational financial planning. He also tried to bring a healthy “reality dose” to the counseling process. Jim believed that his varied experiences allowed him represent the larger world more accurately to students.
In his “spare time,” Jim coached the water polo team which he founded at Highland Park.
Jim’s innovative approaches to high school counseling brought him national recognition: he was active in the Illinois Association of College Admissions Counselors, which has created an award in his name; and he served as president of the National Association of College Admissions Counselors. He received a number of other citations and awards. The center Jim helped create at Highland Park is now named for him.
Jim was full of life, and he led a full life. He and Gita–the former Margareta Jarnstedt, who worked as an interior designer–had two children, James and Caryn. Jim was extremely devoted to and proud of his family. He and Gita also bought and renovated and sold real estate; collected antiques (the couple owned and ran a small antiques business in Illinois). Jim painted (in oils), loved music, antiques, travel, his friends, his family.
In 2000, Jim and Gita retired to Hendersonville, N.C., which is also near the renowned Flat Rock Playhouse. The last time I saw Jim (I live in nearby Brevard) was at a party he and Gita gave to celebrate the expansion and renovation of their house. Jim knew he was very ill; he couldn’t wait to show the unfinished project to his friends. He led us around the house, his expansive gestures filling in their dreams of new rooms, new surfaces, new spaces. He talked the whole time; you could hear his booming voice all over the house.
Jim died on December 19, 2004, of leukemia. I am only one of a huge number of people who miss him.