Remembering Jim Conant

Midway through 6th grade, a new kid suddenly entered Burr Farms Elementary School. Our friend groups were well established, but everyone liked Jim Conant. He was funny. He was smart as hell. And — this is not something one generally says about almost-teenage boys — he was kind.

As we moved through Long Lots Junior High and Staples, Jim and I remained friends. Not best friends — we hung out in different circles — but we shared classes, senses of humor, and ways of seeing the world.

Jim Conant

Jim Conant

Jim always seemed to know who he was. I had no clue whatsoever. I admired his calm sense of self, even if I couldn’t describe it at the time.

Jim went to Princeton, and made a name for himself academically (graduating magna cum laude) and musically (he was a fantastic trumpet player). I went to Brown, still trying to figure things out. We shared a good-natured rivalry.

Jim then earned a master’s in electrical engineering from UCLA. He went on to work with radar, sonar and software. He held two patents.

I went on to do whatever it is I do. We lost touch, though he lived just an hour away in Brookfield.

Three years ago, at a Staples reunion, we reconnected. I told him how much I’d admired him when we were younger. He seemed surprised.

At the Staples reunion 3 years ago, I had a great time with old friends. From left: myself, Jim Conant, Steve McCoy and Fred Cantor.

At a Staples reunion 3 years ago, I had a great time with old friends. From left: myself, Jim Conant, Steve McCoy and Fred Cantor.

A few months later we met for dinner in Ridgefield. We caught up on our lives. He told me about his marriage and divorce, his 3 kids, his involvement in youth sports and a youth math program, and his civic volunteer work.

But Jim seemed distracted. A couple of months later, he called to say why. The afternoon of our dinner, he’d been diagnosed with ALS.

He relayed the news matter-of-factly. With his scientific mind, he’d already done plenty of research. Lou Gehrig’s disease sufferers generally live 2 to 5 years, he said. Before dying, they lose the ability to move their limbs, talk, swallow, and breathe on their own.

Their minds, however, remain fine. They know exactly what is happening to them.

At that point, he was in good physical shape. He kept active. His spirits were strong.

A couple of summers ago, Jim invited a group of old friends to his house on Lake Lillinonah. The setting was beautiful; the evening was fun. He was an animated tour guide as he piloted his boat across the water.

Jim at the helm of his boat on Lake Lillinonah. (Photo/Fred Cantor)

Jim at the helm of his boat on Lake Lillinonah. (Photo/Fred Cantor)

Our next dinner was at Rizzuto’s. He wanted to come to Westport. He didn’t get out much, but he could still drive. He apologized for having to prop his head up from time to time. His muscles were already weakening. But he talked about today and tomorrow much more than yesterday.

As with all ALS sufferers, his decline was steady. His preferred method of communication became email. A few months ago, he wrote that he had always wanted enough time to read and listen to music. Now he had that time, but for the absolute worst reason.

This summer, Jim emailed me that at some point — not then; in the future — he would have to make a decision about living life as a quadriplegic, or not. He described that choice matter-of-factly. Right now, he said, he was doing fine.

Jim Conant, his son Dan, and an unidentified family member at Jim's Brookfield home.

Jim Conant, his son Dan and sister-in-law Joanne at Jim’s Brookfield home.

On Friday, I emailed Jim:

I hope things are going okay, and you’re able to enjoy your surroundings. Your comment about having time you always dreamed of to read and listen to music – but not the way you wanted to – really resonated with me. It made a profound impact. So please know that – long after our elementary school days – you continue to influence my life, in very positive ways. For that, I am very grateful.

I am thinking of you.

Coincidentally, early on Monday, I saw on Facebook that Jim’s birthday had been Saturday. I had no idea.

Two days late, I posted a generic greeting on his timeline. Dozens of others were already there.

Jim never saw those good wishes, from his many friends. He did not get my email, either.

On Monday afternoon, his brother Scott sent the news.

Jim died Friday night, at home. His sister, son and a good friend were there.

One day before his birthday.

(A reception for Jim Conant will be held tomorrow — Friday, September 19 — at 10 a.m., followed by a memorial service at 12 p.m., at the Brookfield Congregational Church. He requested that in lieu of flowers, donations be made to the Massachusetts General Hospital ALS research clinic, the ALS Association, ASTDI or Regional Hospice and Home Care of Western Connecticut.)

 

8 responses to “Remembering Jim Conant

  1. What a beautiful tribute to
    a man who sounds like he was
    an inspirational man and friend.
    It is sad to start my day with such
    a sad story, but it is a sharp
    reminder of how short and random life
    can be. It reminded me to try even harder to enjoy each day, each friend, and every joy that life offers. I’m sad
    that Jim never got your email of gratitude. But from your detailed description of him, I have a feeling he
    is somewhere “up there”, smiling, with
    the knowledge that he was loved and respected, and will be thought of and missed by all who knew him.
    RIP Mr. Conant. A short life well lived.

  2. Jeremy Deutsch

    I am so sorry for your loss, Dan. Your send off left me sorry not to have known him.

  3. I remember Jim’s trumpet playing well from countless band and orchestra rehearsals at Staples. He always seemed a gentle soul with a great smile and great pitch. ALS is Lou Gherig’s disease. I am sorry that it was also Jim’s.

  4. That’s so sad and a wonderful tribute. Though I didn’t know Jim, I DID know Scott and my heart goes out to him and all the family.
    What a horrible disease.

  5. Eric Buchroeder SHS '70

    I knew Jim and his family in high school. I remember them all as an immensely talented, energetic and close-knit clan I can only imagine their loss. Much too young.

  6. A beautiful tribute that really captures what Jim was all about. Just a small example of Jim’s kindness and considerate nature: in mid-June, despite his debilitated condition at that point, he emailed me some info that he came across and thought might be helpful to my health issues. He was indeed a very caring person who was still thinking of others even to the end.

  7. Marcy Anson Fralick

    I was in his sister, Kathy’s class (1970), and knew her peripherally throughout Long Lots and Staples. My heart goes out to the family.

    From Legacy.com

    James Conant
    Obituary

    Conant, James Rand.
    James Rand Conant, 60, of Brookfield, CT, passed away at home September 13, 2014 after a long battle with ALS. Son of the late Barton C. and June K. Conant, he is survived by his three children Daniel, Carolyn, and Jennette, his ex-wife Kathleen Creighton and her partner Joe Dolen, his sister Katharine Conant O’Shea and husband Donald, his brother Scott Conant and wife Joanne, and extended family James and Jimmie Conant, Kelly, Aaron, and Abigail Winn, Michael and Maya O’Shea, Barton and Carolyn Conant, Stephanie Conant, and numerous cousins. He was predeceased by his brother Keith.
    Born on September 14, 1953, Jim grew up in Westport, CT. He studied electrical engineering at Princeton University, graduating magna cum laude in 1975 with a B.S.E.E. degree. He graduated from UCLA in 1977 with an M.S.E.E. degree. Through a career that spanned three corporations, Jim worked on radar seekerhead analysis and design, programmable signal processing systems for passive sonar, and software development and research, and came to hold two U.S. patents.
    Active in the local community, Jim’s volunteer efforts included coaching Math Counts at Whisconier Middle School in Brookfield, youth hockey, and soccer, and working for Citizens for a Better Brookfield, Friends of the Lake, and ALS-ETF (Emergency Treatment Fund). In addition, Jim was an avid ice-hockey player, water skier, and stock market investor, and was an excellent trumpet player in his college years.
    Jim’s passing on the day before his 61st birthday is a devastating loss to his family, friends, and the Brookfield community. He inspired us all with his courage, grace, and dignity while facing ALS. A reception is planned for Friday, September 19, at 10AM, followed by a memorial service which begins at 12PM. Both will be held at the Brookfield Congregational Church, located at 160 Whisconier Road, in Brookfield, CT. Jim requested that donations to ALS research be made in lieu of flower gifts in his memory. Donations may be made to the Massachusetts General Hospital ALS research clinic (www.mghcureals.org), the ALS Association (www.alsa.org), ALSTDI (www.als.net), or to Regional Hospice and Home Care of Western CT (www.regionalhospicect.org/donate/).
    To light a candle of hope and remembrance please visit our website at http://www.CornellMemorial.com

    – See more at: http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/ctpost/obituary.aspx?n=james-conant&pid=172481043&fhid=20388#sthash.wkZpvhdS.dpuf

  8. I grew up on Sturges Commons with the Conant family and remember Jim as smart, kind and a friend of my brother, David’s. Dan, thanks for the wonderful tribute. ALS is an awful disease. I know someone else who is suffering from it and I hope that researchers will find a cure soon.