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James "Jimmy" Harper, 86, passed away on Wednesday, November 15, 2023.
Long before the concept of “love languages” was part of our modern culture, it was clear that touch was Jim’s primary love language. He was a people person, and a handshake, embrace or tender touch were his way of expressing affection, of affirming you were important to him. That touch extended to nicknames and he had a nickname for everyone he loved (and probably a few for some of those he didn’t). From Gravel Gertie, Jedekiah, Dingleberry, Lightening, Elrod, Lonesome, Stinky and many more, we wear our nicknames with pride.
Born to the late JQ Harper and Ruby Irene Goff on March 11, 1937, in Jumpertown, MS, little Jimmy embraced all the mischief the name “little Jimmy” implies. Growing up a thirder’s son (kind of like a sharecropper) in North MS during the Great Depression left an indelible mark on him . . . he wanted more.
As a teen, the Harper family moved to Memphis seeking greener pastures, and lived in a boarding house (a fact that he was mortified by as a teenager) and he attended Humes High School (you nailed it – he went to school with Elvis, who he frequently described as a nice guy, but a bit of a sissy). At the end of his senior year in high school, Jimmy had a disagreement with one of his teachers, who he was convinced was going to fail him. Since having a quick temper was (and would be) a lifelong trait, hot headed Jimmy ditched high school and joined the Marines. He expected to be shipped off to Korea, and frankly was looking forward to the fight, but a breakdown in route to Paris Island, SC, delayed his arrival and he missed the last busload of young men from Paris Island that were ultimately sent to Korea.
After his honorable discharge from the Marines in spring of 1957, Jimmy’s Mom set him up as a “fill-in” prom date for a young girl she worked with. A lack of self confidence was never a problem for him, and though the girl thought he was cocky, he assured her that he was just confident. Within a few short months, Jere Lynn Finney, much to her future dismay, said “Yes!” and they were soon married and ready to build a family.
His youth taught him the value of hard work and Jim (more grown than Jimmy, of course) worked around the clock to make ends meet for his young family. He repaired TVs (if you know him at all you know he is absolutely, positively, not AT ALL mechanically inclined), worked as a valet, worked overnight at a bakery and sold candy with Curtis candy. Candy may not be food to most of us, but candy sales is where his career in food service began. He found his niche as a salesman. And despite never finishing high school, he earned his GED in the Marines and ultimately worked his way up the ladder to become President, CEO and Chairman of Sysco Food Services in Jackson, MS. He dedicated over 40 years of his life to the same company and loved his career and his colleagues.
The family he relished grew quickly. The first four of our crew have a unique bond forged in advanced lessons in sibling rivalry which Jim both championed and loathed simultaneously. The last two of the crew were stragglers, but Dad (and Mom) made sure we all knew that all of us were accidents, happy accidents, but accidents, nonetheless. In birth order (because that is how you have to think about it when there are 6 kids ranging a span of just over 20 years), James Richard “Rick” Harper (Susan), Cheryl Lynn “Cheri” Harper (Les Taylor), John “Johnny” Wade Harper (Laura), Joseph “Jody” Patrick Harper, Jared Dale Harper (Alicia), and last (but not least) Jynger Nichole Harper (Isaac). Jynger’s late arrival precluded her from some of the more adventurous moments for the Harper clan, such as a trip to Washington DC in an old, converted school bus, appropriately nicknamed the Harper’s Bazaar.
He celebrated our victories, our marriages, and his grandchildren (14 of them) and great grandchildren (7 of those) were a constant source of delight (unless they, or we, overstayed our welcome, afterall, even family begins to stink after a few days – like fish as he would say). Those grandchildren in order of their parent’s birth (when you pick a method that works, stick with it): Jimmie Harper, Julieann Harper, Chandra Taylor, Courtney Taylor, Candace Taylor, Ashley Al-Chokhachi, Jacob Harper, Brandee Murphy, Drew Harper, Madeline Harper, Titus Harper, Lillian DeLaura, Lucas Morris, and Liam Morris. Whew – to save your brain cells we will not list out the great-grands.
Jim and the love of his life, Lynn, celebrated 66 years together in September of 2023. Together, they never met a stranger and have a lifetime of friendships they’ve enjoyed together. She has spent the last few years caring for him as Alzheimer’s slowly stole her husband while she watched. If you are one of those friends, check on her, she will need it and that is what he would have asked of all of us.
The family will receive friends Saturday, November 18, from 10:00 a.m. until service time at Phillips Funeral Home. A memorial service will begin at 11:00 a.m. at Phillips Funeral Home with Topper Killough officiating.
In lieu of flowers, and if you are moved to honor Jim’s memory, we ask that you make a donation to the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America in his name. https://alzfdn.org/