I've been trying to write a few paragraphs about my memories of Jim Olsen since I heard he had passed away, and I'm finding it very difficult. I have so many, and the more I try to write about them, the more come to mind.
During my eight years as a member of the board of directors, and my dozen or so years working in the convention office, I had lots of opportunities to interact with Jim and the Olsen family. I learned very quickly that they were all some of the nicest, kindest, generous, and hardest working people I'd ever met.
I remember arriving in Tampa, Fla., a few days before the start of the convention. It was the first year I was given the responsibility of running the convention office, and I wanted to make sure I knew what I was doing. My first morning there, I began wandering around the hotel, looking for other ACB early arrivals. As I walked past an open doorway, I heard a voice yell out, "Jean Mann! Just who I was looking for!", and before I knew it, I was sitting at a table with a Perkins brailler in front of me, brailling tickets for some event that was occurring during the week. Afterwards, Jim and Anna and I went out to lunch. Thus began my friendship with Jim.
Through the ensuing years, we sometimes found ourselves sharing a meal, or a ride to the airport. Our conversations were always lively and fun. Sometimes we talked about ACB, and I could ask him any question, no matter how stupid I thought it might be, even if it was something I knew I should know, and I'd always get an answer which cleared everything up. More often on those occasions, however, the talk would turn to events in our lives, and I got to hear lots of stories about Jim and Anna, and Sarah and Martha. I particularly remember Jim telling us about a trip he and Anna took to Norway. They visited the village where his ancestors were from, and he managed to track down and visit a distant relative.
I remember the many interactions I had with Jim during conventions. The registration and convention offices are generally right near each other. Sometimes, when the registration office got just a little too chaotic, Jim would wander over to see us and chat for a few minutes and maybe have a cup of coffee, or bring us something he needed brailled. I only remember one time he ever asked for a special favor.
We were in Orlando, and the banquet that year was to be a farewell sendoff for Oral Miller, who was retiring as our executive director. We assigned reserved tables for the banquets, and they were usually assigned on a first-come, first-served basis. Jim specifically asked to have his table be one where he could see everything. He said Oral was like a brother to him. I made sure his table was front and center.
Jim did lots of little favors for other people. I can't count the number of times I walked into the registration office, even after it was officially closed, to get information for somebody, or find out what we could do to help a member obtain emergency cash to go home because of a family crisis, or one of many other little things that come up during conventions. I know I interrupted him from whatever work he was doing, but he always acted like it was no bother.
Sometimes it seemed to me that Jim had several pairs of eyes. He always seemed to know what was going on, even when you wished he didn't. Two years ago, while we were in Pittsburgh, I was walking through the convention center one day, looking for a particular room. I knew there was supposed to be a closed door on my right which I was going to have to pass through. When I thought I'd come to it, I opened it, and an alarm immediately went off. Thinking nobody was around to have seen me set it off, I quickly closed the door and nonchalantly walked on as though I'd had nothing to do with it. A minute later, I heard Jim's voice from a few feet behind me loudly exclaim, "Jean Mann, that wasn't you I just saw open that emergency door, was it?", and I knew I'd been caught after all.
Occasionally I would call the Minneapolis office to get information or ask a question, and if Jim was available we'd talk for a few minutes. The last time I spoke to him was last spring. We talked about his family, including the grandchildren, and then the conversation turned to the flurry of activity on the ACB lists, and the turmoil we were currently experiencing. Jim commented on how much ACB could accomplish if only everybody would put their energies toward working for the organization instead of wasting it arguing. And before we hung up, he'd managed to get my credit card number and a pledge for ACB's monthly monetary support program. I don't know what he was like with his staff, or at home with his family, but it dawned on me after that conversation that I'd never seen him lose his cool. Jim always seemed to "keep his head about him when others were losing theirs," as the saying goes.
We hung up from that phone call expecting we'd see each other in Birmingham. For medical reasons, neither of us made it. Mine were very minor; his were more serious than any of us wanted to acknowledge.
It's been said that we are all irreplaceable. Some of us, however, are harder to replace than others. Jim is one of those people. We were so lucky to have had him as our chief financial officer, and as a member and friend. My condolences go out to Anna and the entire Olsen family, and to us, the members of his ACB family.
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