Monday, June 6, 2011


Mary Ellen asked me to say a few words about Jim.

And I suppose at a gathering such as this, most folks expect to hear a eulogy praising the deceased, remembering his finer qualities and expressing our sense of loss.

But if you knew Jim Canham, and I guess I knew him about as well as anybody, what he would really expect is to be roasted.

That’s the way he was.

Insulting people was his favorite way of showing affection. You knew he really liked you when he called you a dipstick.

Jim Canham was bigger than life. His voice was modulated at two levels. Loud and louder.

He was often wrong, but never in doubt. And he was smart. Very smart. Certainly a lot smarter than I am. He knew everybody’s name, and where they lived, and where they came from, and what they did for a living, and how many times they had been married. And what their golf handicap was.

A voracious reader, Canham was always well informed. About the law. Politics. Religion. Sports. Movies. History. Current events. He knew it all. And what he didn’t know, he made up. And then believed it.

He was the leader, the chairman, the CEO, the boss of well, just about everything. And everybody. What are we gonna do? Ask Canham. Where are we gonna go? Ask Canham. Who’s gonna be there? Canham knows. Ask him.

A few people called him Jim. A few more called him Judge. But mostly people called him Canham. Even Mary Ellen called him Canham sometimes. That’s when you knew he was in the dog house.

He liked people. He loved people. He was gregarious and he was generous. He gave me my first set of golf clubs. Haig ultras. I used them for years. He told me how to use them. And he never hesitated to correct me if I didn’t use them properly.

But he was generous. I remember once when we played golf together, he even let me drive the cart.

Actually, he always insisted on driving the cart because of his deaf ear. I never could remember which ear was the deaf one. So I never knew if he insisted on driving because he wanted to hear me, or because he didn’t want to hear me.

Canham and I were law school classmates. Later we were colleagues on the Wayne County Circuit Court. Our wives are the dearest of friends, so Jim and I were often traveling companions, drinking buddies, golfing buddies, tennis partners, gin rummy partners, and coconspirators of one kind or another.

But we never won. Never won at anything.

We played in the Green Coat a number of times. Always finished back in the pack.

Canham was the chairman of the tournament. He’d be fretting about whether the bananas were too ripe or not ripe enough. Whether the so and sos had the right table at the banquet. If it would rain, or if we needed rain. Or if what’s his name had invited the same sandbagger he brought last year.

Invariably by the end of the second day, he couldn’t putt a golf ball into an open man hole, and he would be longing for Monday to come so he could play with his usual pals.

It got so bad, I finally bought a condo and joined the club, so I wouldn’t have to be his partner in the member-guest tournament. Then he decided we had to play in the member-member tournament.

I wrote a blog about him a little more than a year ago. He had already lost more than fifty pounds, and he knew that his time had come. He resigned himself to it. He didn’t like being sick, being helpless. Even his dog Angus was dying, but Canham could still laugh.

He went out slow and hard. Lots of time to say goodby. Lots of time for tears. Lots of time for self pity or regrets. Canham did neither. He saw his friends, and made new ones. He’s the only man I know who would hit on a hospice nurse. He loved that line. It made him laugh. He never lost his sense of humor.

One of the last times I saw him, he was flat on his back on the kitchen floor. Mary Ellen called me and I ran over to help get him up. We struggled awhile, and finally the nurse came. She knew what to do, soon had him in a sitting position, and asked him what happened.

I saw that old familiar twinkle in his eye when he answered, “Mary Ellen pushed me.”

Truthfully, for that last year, Mary Ellen not only pushed and pulled him. She dressed and bathed and fed him and waited on him hand and foot. She was the one constant love of his life. She gave him sixty years of devotion and sacrifice. Even put off joining the Emmet County Women’s Republican Club.

One of my favorite movies is “Waking Ned Devine.”

There’s a scene where Jackie O’Shea is speaking about his friend Michael O’Sullivan, and he says what many of us here this afternoon would like to say ourselves:

“Jim Canham was my great friend. But I don’t ever remember telling him that. The words that are spoken at a funeral are spoken too late for the man who is dead. What a wonderful thing it would be to visit your own funeral. To sit at the front and hear what was said, maybe say a few things yourself. Canham and I grew old together. But at times, when we laughed, we grew young. If he was here now, if he could hear what I say, I’d congratulate him on being a great man, and thank him for being a friend.”

I’ve thought about that scene many times since Jim Canham died. And I’ve wondered just what he would say to us. Now. Today. If he were standing here.

His life was full of contradictions. Of highs and lows. Of great achievements and loud crashes. Of public attention and private solace. He was the quintessential human being, a mixture of confusion and confidence, of greatness and banality, success and failure, adversaries and admirers.

But no one would deny that he was his own man.

And I suspect that his parting speech to us would be cast in the words of a ballad he loved.

I can close my eyes and hear him singing it:

Regrets, I’ve had a few,
But then again, too few to mention.
I did what I had to do,
And saw it through without exemption.
I planned each charted course;
Each careful step along the byway,
And more, much more than this,
I did it my way.

1 comment: