As December closed, my thoughts were on a close, personal and professional friend, William James. I wrote this piece at his passing and share it with you here to continue to honor this humble, enterprising man "straight outta Compton."
As 2008 closed, the equal opportunity and contract compliance communities lost one of their staunchest advocates - and I lost a long-time friend.
William James, the former Compton, Calif. contract compliance officer responsible for crafting that city’s minority business enterprise program in the 1980s, died December 4, 2008. William suffered a massive stroke in his Compton home on December 3rd, went into a coma, and succumbed the next day without waking. William was 70.
On the morning of December 8, 2008, my phone rang. I saw William’s name pop up, thanks to my caller ID. I consulted with William the week before on a bid he was preparing for the city of El Monte, Calif. We did this often so the call caused me no undue concern.
I answered with, “Hey, William.” He did not answer. A female voice spoke haltingly. “Hi, Käto. This isn’t William. I have some bad news." And so it went.
Typing it, even now, is difficult. Awkward. But I want you who did not get to meet him as he lived to know something of my friend William. Your friend William. William was a friend to all small and emerging businesses and to anyone who would accept his hand.
In a note to me from one of William’s nine children, Jennene Pugh, she shared the more commonplace elements of obituaries: William was born in Corsicana, Tex., on August 17, 1938, to William Boyd James and Georgia James, the third of eight children. William was reared in Compton, a “local boy” who graduated from Compton’s Centennial High School in 1957. He went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in business management from the University of Phoenix.
William worked in the insurance industry for 40 years, building an impressive client base and reputation. His success in insurance left him with time that he devoted to his other professional interests: construction and public sector contract compliance. Let me address those professional interests first.
I met William in 1990. We were investigators with the City of Los Angeles Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA), impassioned with our mission and committed to our work. William and I worked as a team initially and developed a bond that extended past our employment there.
William arrived at CRA with solid credentials under his belt. William worked as a developer before joining the City of Compton as its contract compliance officer. He worked for the City of Compton from 1985 to 1991. During that period, William had responsibility for enforcing the city’s affirmative action ordinance, managed its public works compliance program, and established its minority enterprise program. Over time, William’s hours were reduced in that job title. He added the CRA to his résumé to ensure a full day’s work.
A reduction in force (lay-offs, i.e.) impacted Compton in 1991 and William was not spared. His work ethic and genuine utility left the city with no choice but to rehire William as a part-time consultant. William’s new tasks included his old ones, broadening his work in affirmative action compliance and labor standards enforcement.
William filled out his days working both jobs through 1992. Shortly after both positions ended, William went to work for the firm of King and Wright Consulting. King and Wright had picked up a lucrative contract with the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro) and needed William to manage its labor compliance staff of five. William, as with everything he engaged, excelled.
Three years later, in 1996, the King and Wright contract with Metro ended its period of performance and was rebid. King and Wright did not prevail in the bidding so William called me. I was the acting director for the El Monte, Calif. office of the Center for Contract Compliance (CCC).
The CCC was a laborers’ union-funded public works monitoring organization with a staff of 21 covering 12 counties. “Selling” William to the CCC board of directors was the easiest task I had ever undertaken. He went to work there and remained until he retired in 2004.
Following “retirement,” William kept busy as a consultant. William and I collaborated on his work with the Southern California Painting and Drywall Finishers Apprenticeship Trust, monitoring public works projects for forensic fraud, prevailing wage and apprenticeship violations throughout Southern California. William was never still and that’s why he and I spoke about errors and omissions insurance in late November 2008, a week before his death, four years after his retirement, when he was 70 years of age.
But William’s life was rich with those things that matter most to many of us. Among William’s avocations were woodworking, painting, drawing, videography, and photography. William volunteered his time designing and building custom cabinetry. He was adept at smaller creations, too.
As I write this I can see the one-piece, three-dimensional sculpture he made for me in 1996 that forms the letters of my first name. He surprised me with it one day, presenting it to me at a small pool party, thrown for no particular event, at my home. It was painted green, he said, because it would keep me prosperous. William was that way. He wanted us all to do well in our endeavors.
William plied his hobbies of photography and videography to excellent effect. He enjoyed 27 grandchildren and doted on them collectively and individually. William lived to see his first great-grandchild born nine months before his passing.
I was not there but can just see William with camera gear bags slung over his shoulder, electronic SLR camera and camcorder poised at the ready. He was the best kind of shutterbug.
Eileena was William’s soul mate. He called Eileena his wife but always saw her as his everything. His soul, said he, was one with hers. John Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme” puts me in mind of my conversations with William about his marriage, his family, his life.
Eileena and William met in 1977 at the North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company in Philadelphia, Penn. Two years later they married and “enjoyed raising a union of nine children,” announced William’s obituary.
William was preceded in death by his father, William Boyd James; his sister, Olivia D. Smith; and his son, Chauncey A. James.
In addition to his wife, Eileena James, William James is survived by his children Gerald M. James (Jackie), Trent B. James, Shaunda J. Terry (Tom), Charlotte V. Bard (Cortland), Troy D. Fennell (Felipa), Jennene A. Pugh (Nathan), Cory D. James, and Brittany K. James; twenty-seven grandchildren; one great grandchild; his mother, Georgia James.
William is also survived by six siblings: Gloria D. Redd (William), David M. James (Flory), Floyd A. James (Constance), Lorita Venable (Harry), Joshua James, and Aleatha F. James-Tipton; and a host of aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces, nephews, in-laws, extended family and many special friends.
Interment for William James took place on the afternoon of December 11, 2008, in Inglewood, Calif. The skies wept knowing how much he would be missed among us.
Nota bene: William James and Käto Cooks served on the board of directors for the Equal Opportunity Compliance Officers Association of Southern California, Inc. with Cooks as its president and James as its treasurer.