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Jim Dickens was one of the best

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Patsy Pridgen

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By Patsy Pridgen
Telegram Columnist

Sunday, September 3, 2017

I knew him before he knew me. Who is this man behind the microphone, I wondered, the emcee of the Atlantic Coast Conference Golf Tournament? It was 1990 at Northgreen Country Club, and this was my introduction to one of Rocky Mount’s finest citizens, Jim Dickens.

I hadn’t been back in my hometown that long, or I would have recognized James Russell Dickens, Sr. Along with his accomplishment of bringing the ACC golf tournament to my neighborhood course, Jim had his hand in just about every civic organization in Rocky Mount. The Salvation Army, the United Way, the Kiwanis Club, the Breakfast Optimist Club, the American Cancer Society, the Boy Scouts, the Twin County Education Foundation…the list goes on. In terms of volunteering, Jim was high profile.

No doubt about it: over the course of his life, Jim did a lot of good for his community. As recently as this summer, wheelchair-bound and attended by an aide, he showed up in the heat to make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for the Gatekeepers volunteers. A shining light of selfless volunteerism was extinguished with his death on August 18.

But when I remember Jim Dickens, it’s not for his impressive civic accomplishments but rather for his warmth and genuine interest in others. Jim Dickens didn’t know me until I first attended West Haven Presbyterian Church, where he and his wife Alice were longtime members. He ambled over to greet my husband and me that Sunday, introducing himself with his trademark big smile. Later I heard that Jim had reported to an absent member, “We had a young couple visit today.” My husband and I were in our late fifties at the time, so I was in love with Jim Dickens from that point on.

It didn’t take Jim long to figure out I was “the one who writes that column in the paper.” From then on, every Sunday he saw me, he’d compliment me on something that had recently been printed.

Once he sent me an email about a column I had written on the lottery: “Patsy, your Sunday RMT article is one I look forward to every week. I never have seen one that I didn’t like or didn’t gain something from reading. Yesterday, you really ‘hit the jackpot.’ I agree with what you said about ‘hitting the jackpot’ by the good fortune of being Americans and living the kind of life we live here and not under the rule of an oppressive government.”

I think the image I will retain of Jim will not be the last time I saw him, in his wheelchair at a funeral at First Methodist just weeks before his own at his beloved West Haven Presbyterian Church. No, I will remember Jim as he slowly made his way down the aisle to the front of the sanctuary to lead the Children’s Sermon one Sunday at West Haven. The children raced past him and were seated at the front, waiting. “I’ll be there in a minute, boys and girls,” Jim quipped. “It takes me a little longer.”

Arriving, he spun his lesson, captivating both them and the rest of the congregation with his humor and humility. He was a good man, giving of himself to the very end.

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