Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Larry James 1947-2008

My brother-in-law died on his birthday. He was 61. Below is a reprint of one of the many obituaries written about him.


G. Larry James dies at 61; runner won gold, silver medals at 1968 Olympics

Richard Stockton College
When Richard Stockton College honored G. Larry James, left, for four decades of excellence on Dec. 1, 2007, (from second left) Vince Matthews, Ron Freeman and Lee Evans joined their fellow Olympian for the festivities.
By Claire Noland
November 8, 2008
G. Larry James, a middle-distance runner known as "The Mighty Burner" who employed his streaky speed to win gold and silver medals in track at the 1968 Summer Olympics, died of colon cancer at his home in Smithville, N.J., on Thursday, his 61st birthday.

His death was announced by the Richard Stockton College of New Jersey, where he spent 28 years as athletic director.

James won his gold medal in Mexico City by teaming with Vince Matthews, Ron Freeman and Lee Evans in the U.S. 4-by-400-meter relay. He also won a silver medal in the 400-meter individual race.

James was a sophomore at Villanova University outside Philadelphia when he qualified for the U.S. Olympic team in 1968, a year when the nation was rocked by the assassinations of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Sen. Robert F. Kennedy and riots in several U.S. cities.

Some of the African American athletes on the U.S. team proposed a boycott of the Mexico City Games as a way to make a statement protesting the treatment of blacks in America, but James wanted to race.

"For me, it came down to: Do you want to go there and be seen, or do you want to be an asterisk in the record book?" he said in an interview with the Star-Ledger of Newark, N.J., in 2007.

Lacking consensus, the athletes decided to compete.

But the issue came to a head after U.S. sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos won gold and bronze, respectively, in the 200-meter race.

At the medals ceremony, while "The Star-Spangled Banner" played, Smith and Carlos stood on the podium and raised their gloved fists in a Black Power salute.

The athletes were booed, and the International Olympic Committee insisted they be expelled for making a political statement during the Games.

Two days later came the 400-meter race. The U.S. runners swept the event, with James taking silver in 43.97 seconds, second to Evans' world-record time of 43.86. Freeman was third.

All three men recorded their best times ever, and James and Evans were the first to break the 44-second mark.

"When we had the press conference after the race, all anybody wanted to ask about was Tommie and John," James told the Star-Ledger. "I was thinking, 'Doesn't anyone want to talk about what we just did?' "

Next up was the 4-by-400-meter relay, held two days later. This time the U.S. runners set a world record in 2 minutes, 56.16 seconds, with James running the third leg.

The winning time was matched in 1988, but the record remained unbroken until 1992.

For their medals ceremony, the relay runners chose to wear black berets and black socks, but when the national anthem played, they removed their caps and stood at attention.

"Pictures of us . . . appeared in Black Panther newspapers," James recalled in a 1991 interview with Sports Illustrated. "And in the main media, we'd won for our country. We had something for everybody.

"We were agents of change, but . . . we were so unprepared," he said. "We were suddenly expert on everything, man, on toothpaste. You get caught up in it, the love affair the public has with athletes. You learn how it embraces you, and then you learn how it tires of you."

James returned to Villanova, graduating with a bachelor's degree in business in 1970. He served in the Marine Corps Reserve, attaining the rank of major, and later earned a master's degree in public policy from Rutgers University.

He was hired as track coach and assistant athletic director at Stockton College in 1972. He used to tell people he had planned to stay for three years, but they stretched into 36.

James became athletic director in 1980 and transformed the athletic program into a Division III power, the highlight coming when the men's soccer team won the Division III national championship in 2001. He also led efforts to build a $17-million multipurpose recreation center in 2000. He stepped down as athletic director Aug. 1.

James stayed involved in the Olympic movement over the years and held a variety of positions with USA Track and Field. In 2003 he was inducted into the National Track & Field Hall of Fame.

Born and raised in Greenburgh, N.Y., George Lawrence James was 15 when his mother, Martha, took him to Washington, D.C., in August 1963 for the March on Washington at which King delivered his "I Have a Dream" speech.

"I realized there was more to life than just me and my neighborhood," James told the Journal News of Westchester County, N.Y., in 2004. "There was a whole world of people that wanted to make a difference."

Survivors include his wife, Cynthia; son Larry B. James; daughter Tamaiya Forbey; five grandchildren; his mother; and a sister.

Contributions in his name may be made to the G. Larry James Legacy Fund at Stockton College,

Noland is a Times staff writer.


Kirsten said...

So sorry to hear of your loss. He sounds like a great man.

Jemima said...

Wow, Larry James was your brother-in-law? What a great, great man. As a runner, I'm particularly awed by his story and dedication to the sport. How lucky you are (we all are) for having known him. There was another story about his coaching in the Times where he said he would “spot the boys 20 yards in a 440 and, if I catch them, they have to do three more laps.” He usually caught them, he said. He sounds like he was a lot of fun, and I'm so sorry for your family's loss.

hakucho said...

Very sorry for your family's loss. He was way too young, but most certainly had a fabulous and sucessful life. Very sad. Hugs!

Vera H. said...

What an impressive life.

Melodye said...

Deborah, I am so sorry for your loss. Please accept my deepest condolences.

Beverly said...

Sorry for your loss. What a beautiful legacy your brother-in-law left.

WandaWoman said...

So sorry to hear of your family's loss.

cici said...

I said a prayer for you and your family. What a great man he was. Thanks for sharing it with us.

Marce (BrownBerry) said...

Sending love and wishes for strength to your sister D, and hugs for you and the rest of the family too! He created a great legacy while he was here, and thanks to you, I'll make sure the girls get to know more about this particular part of our history.

Anonymous said...

I'm deeply sorrow for your loss of Larry. Thank you for sharing his life with us; it's a beautiful story.

Ina said...

I'm sorry for your loss. What an amazing life.

Anonymous said...

He sounds like an amazing man. {{{hugs}}} to you and your family.

Ferret And Hound said...

Oh Dee, I am so sorry! A big big hug to you and your family! :-(

Lynn said...

I'm so sorry he lost his fight. Hugs going out to your family.

Virtuous said...

Dee I am so sorry!! L.J. definitely left a legacy! Praying for you and your family comfort during this time...

sherry said...

I'm sorry for your brother-in-law's passing. He achieved a lot of quality things into his 61 years. (Cancer sucks. 61 is too young. He should have had at least another 20 years.)

Diane said...

I'm sorry for your loss. I'll keep you and your family in my prayers.

Calling on Kahlo said...

I know this is late, but I am so sorry for your loss. Your brother made such a huge impact and left a wonderful legacy. My thoughts and prayers are with your family.