As we go through life we meet many people and through some of those contacts we develop friendships. I have been blessed in life that this has occurred more than most. My life has been interacting with people, education, coaching, broadcasting, fishing, politics and golf.
One such friendship was developed many years ago with a prominent man in town who was a successful attorney. I was initially introduced to this man by my dear friend, John Fraser. John worked with this man during his tenure as a Board of Supervisors member back in the 1970s and they became great friends. They both worked very hard as friends to make this a better community.
This man was James (“Jim”) Hooper, who outside of his professional life was a very private person. As John included me more and more in spending time with Jim, I learned of many things that were going on behind the scenes in working with government agencies and others to try to break through the hoops to complete projects. Some of this was about the harbor and much of it was about reconstruction after the 1964 tsunami and Christmas flood.
I learned a lot being around Jim and John. Don Clausen was our congressman through those many years and these folks, along with Spud McNamara, Bill Peepe, Harold Del Ponte and other leaders of the time, made their mark in our history. These were really the “good ol’ boys.” That moniker today is taken in vain by some small political groups, but I and others will always look at these great folks as true leaders of the “Good Ship Del Norte.”
I retired from teaching and coaching in 1994 and was looking for other adventures to tackle in life. One day I received a call from Jim Hooper’s secretary, who asked if I would be available to meet with Mr. Hooper in his law office.
He looked at me and thanked me for coming in. He told me that he wanted to learn how to play golf and after a lot of investigating into the matter of golf instruction I was his choice to accomplish the task.
Wow, that about blew me away, as he could have hired the best in the country. I responded, “Jim, I would be honored to help teach you the game.”
I knew that this would be an adventure as I knew that Jim would approach this game with all that he had like he approached other challenges in life. We set up a schedule starting with golf lessons on the driving range and chipping and putting in that practice area.
Jim always wore a suit with a shirt and tie but he showed up for our first lesson in nice slacks, a colorful golf shirt and a Ben Hogan hat. We started with the basics, grips, relaxed stance and position over the ball. My continual message to him was “feel the club, feel the shot, picture the shot going to the target.”
I knew that Jim would be intense and would work hard to build a swing. I emphasized the mental part of the swing and the game and that fed right into Jim Hooper. We worked for a full week on building a swing and I told Jim that next week we would tackle the course. I found out that after I would work with Jim that he would stop at Kings Valley Golf Course and hit another large bucket of balls.
What a time we had. Two guys in a golf cart enjoying playing the game and building a real friendship. We played a lot of holes that first summer and Jim was really improving. He loved the challenges of the game and every shot was important. I fed him bits and pieces of different phases of the game, high shots, low shots, bump and run shots, bunker shots, and he responded accordingly.
We would occasionally have another person join us and Jim was always warm and friendly. He loved having one of our high school golfers join us and Dustin Smith, a son of former educators Sherry and Jerry Smith, played with us several times.
One day Jim and I had just completed our seventh hole and were headed to the eighth tee when Dustin yelled down from the third green, asking if he could join us. Jim waved Dustin down and as Dustin got close he said, “Hi, Hoop.”
I looked at Jim and he broke out in a big smile and said, “Hi, Dustin, good to see you.” Nobody in life ever called Jim Hooper “Hoop.” This was the real Jim Hooper that I knew and not the person that most people knew.
What an experience this was for me to sit next to this man in a golf cart and enjoy the real game of golf and talk about everything.
I had to laugh when I asked him how he accomplished so much in his endeavors to rebuild our town and other projects in Humboldt County, working with politicians and agencies. His response was, “I gave them small chores to do so I could get them out of my hair and I would complete the task.”
Jim and I would play in the fall when days became shorter and it turned colder and it didn’t surprise me that he brought little packaged hand warmers so we could play late. He would show up with a new club, new type of glove or some other golf trinket or device. At least once during our round he would offer me a Ricola cough drop to soothe my throat.
I taught Jim everything that I could for a man in his 70s then. He responded with joy, friendship and an improving golf score. Jim Hooper loved the game of golf. His wife Sophia knew this and was so supportive. John Fraser was delighted with Jim’s success. We played together for several years and enjoyed every moment of our experiences.
Jim was later appointed to the Golden Gate Bridge Authority to replace John Fraser and I was proud to join our Board of Supervisors and to bestow this on this man. I still have a picture of Jim and Sophia standing on top of the north tower of the bridge with staff, just like John Fraser before him.
Several years later, I was broadcasting the Yreka basketball tournament when I received a call from my wife Missy that Jim has passed away after having a heart attack. As the days and weeks passed I pictured Jim and I in that golf cart being two ordinary golfers enjoying the game and each other.