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James L. Powers (Jay)

Died: January 18, 2015

No grandchild ever receives a greater gift than the unqualified love and devotion of a grandparent; Jay Powers gave this gift to his only grandchild, Grace Marie Powers. Upon his retirement from law practice at age 63, Jay turned his energies to family life and in particular to his darling Grace. He built her American Girl furniture, a miniature stable complete with toy horses and made the best ice cream sundaes.

Jay taught Grace more than how to play with toy horses; he summarized years of reading philosophy and religion into simple life lessons any little girl could understand. We should all “Laugh, Give, Excel, Share, Learn and Comfort.” He illustrated these six virtues with simple cartoons and, to involve Grace in the project, asked her to color the figures in. Grace finished coloring “Laugh” and was working on “Give” when Grandfather Jay died. Below is Jay’s cartoon, unfinished, as Grace left it. A sad end, yes, but what better gift could a grandfather leave?

Jay was, in the words of his widow Kathy, “a modern version of a southern gentlemen, kind, considerate, and with a wicked sense of humor.” His roommate Tim Roble said, “He was a wonderful guy, bright, thought about issues, friendly and funny guy. Good to be around.”

Jay and Kathy met on a blind date in college; she went to Vassar. They both entered the University of Florida law school and got married. They worked as lawyers in Washington, DC, she at the SEC and Jay at the Federal Trade Commission. They moved to Jacksonville, FL, working together as lawyers for six years. After visiting roommate Tim in Denver, they found they liked Colorado, and both joined the same Denver law firm, one largely populated by female lawyers, something rare in that era. Jay specialized in representing health care institutions. They had a son, Dylan Powers.

At the firm, Jay demonstrated his wicked sense of humor by publishing a parody of the typical law firm newspaper called The Bitches from Hell Reporter, a reference to the many women lawyers in the office. The report was a huge hit. The lawyers didn’t seem to mind Jay’s barbs, touched as they were with affection. Soon, clients and friends asked for copies of the Bitches from Hell Reporter. Unexpectedly, the “joke” newsletter became a great marketing tool for the firm.

In his spare time Jay was a dedicated carpenter, who largely built the family’s home in Carbondale. He was a member of two book clubs, one for fiction and the other for non-fiction. He read widely and deeply in Buddhism, early Christian philosophy, and South American Liberation Philosophy. He loved Mexico, and he and Kathy visited a number of towns built in the colonial period.

Jay had a heart scare and as a result exercised one hour every day. After Jay’s retirement, he and Kathy moved to the San Francisco Bay area to be close to their son Dylan and granddaughter Grace.

Jay’s widow Kathy wants it known that Jay’s death was a preventable accident, falling from a ladder in his garage and suffering massive brain damage. Her message: stay off ladders!

Howell Ferguson remembers:

Jay was a great friend. I met him the first few weeks of freshman year as I got to know the handful of classmates from Florida. Jay was from Perry, a small North Florida town overshadowed by a paper mill and lots of pine forests. He got used early to lots of hard work at the Western Auto store, which his parents owned and ran. He was a tough high school football lineman and also a student preacher at his church. His small town bred lots of confidence and courage to aspire to the broadest views and highest goals. Needless to say he could talk and laugh with, especially laugh with and entertain, just about anyone.

He was a political science honors major, and I remember his pride in finishing everything on the 5,000-page reading list of Prof. Robert Dahl — or so he said. Jay had a tendency to say things which could not be verified easily, but could be convincingly backed up by him.

Jay was in the middle of the issues of the day. He firmly supported desegregation and the civil rights movement, as well as questioned and then opposed the Vietnam War.

Jay loved to read and talk about politics, religion, theology, novels, film, music, and art; and he could go on for a long time after he had exhausted his knowledge on the particular subject matter, but those engaged in heated or lively discussion with him might not have noticed when he had transitioned into mere surmise. Jay’s roommate, Tim Roble, felt that though Jay was a political science major, he was always more interested in theology and wanted to broaden the scope of any inquiry or discussion. It is true that Jay never had a discussion for long without turning it into high humor for all and about all.

Jay and I roomed together at the University of Florida Law School for a couple of years. Jay did not much like law school; and even though he practiced law, I felt it was always too constraining and not imaginative enough for him.

As we all know, the late 1960s were tough, turbulent times for our generation. I didn’t make many major decisions in those days without having talked at length and late at night with Jay. Fortunately, they mostly worked out.

After his first year in law school, Jay went to Vietnam with International Volunteer Services, providing assistance in the rural areas of Vietnam, much like the Peace Corps. He returned to finish up law school and fortunately married his Vassar girl friend, Kathy Lawyer, who had come to UF Law School too. Together Jay and Kathy had a wonderful personal and professional partnership, practicing law in Washington, Madison, and Denver, until retiring in the San Francisco Bay area to be with their son and daughter in law, Dylan and Tracy, and their much loved granddaughter, Grace.

It was with great sadness that I learned earlier this year from Kathy of Jay’s death through a tragic accident falling from a ladder at their home.

His death taught me once again to stay close to those you care about, and I regret that I had not been in touch with Jay nearly enough during the last few years.