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Jim York, 82, longtime Columbia resident dies

By Sarah Hogue, shogue@tribune.com

9:08 AM EDT, June 27, 2012

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On the 45th anniversary of the city's birth, Columbia lost one its longtime residents and more passionate advocates.

James "Jim" York, an early settler and dedicated admirer of Columbia, died June 18 in the Sanctuary at Holy Cross senior living facility, in Burtonsville, after a five-year battle with Alzheimer's and three-year battle with MRSA, a contagious staph bacteria. He was 82.

York was born and raised in Washington, D.C. He went to both Gonzaga and Eastern high schools, and afterwards joined the U.S. Air Force, where he worked in radio and technical writing.

While living a conservative lifestyle as a technical writing editor at Lockheed Martin, York also lived a rich life through his creative writing, and his passion for music and politics, according to family members.

He loved to recite Edgar Allan Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart," listen to big band music and act, said his youngest son, Jey York.

After marrying his second wife, Ellen Bush, York, his three children from a previous marriage and Bush's four sons from a previous marriage, considered carefully where they would raise their large family — which would soon grow by two more when the newly married couple had more children.

They chose Columbia in 1971, his daughter, Marie Taylor, said, because he "absolutely loved the concept of Columbia, and Jim Rouse for creating Columbia. ... He would have lived at Lake Kittamaqundi if he could have."

In an article about York published in the Columbia Flier on July 8, 1979, entitled "Jim York: celebrating the spirit of Columbia," York talked of how he loved Rouse's creation. He even wrote a poem about it, which included the lines:

Thanks, Jim, your Columbia was a gem of a notion.

We pray God our children keep our devotion.

Raising nine children meant that York often worked more than one job at a time to make ends meet.

He was a "family man," Jey York said, a "working father who did what he could for his family."

One of his secondary jobs was working at the Giant supermarket in Wilde Lake where his idol, Rouse, would stop by and shop.

York "very much enjoyed his short conversations with Jim Rouse," Taylor said.

York's longtime friend and an original settler of Columbia, Ralph Curtis, remembers York as being "gentle and kind to everybody that he would meet. ... He lived and dreamed Columbia."

In the 1979 article, York mentions that one of the reasons he liked Columbia so much was because of his neighbors.

"We don't know all the neighbors on this block, but we know a lot of them and the ones we know, we love," York said.

In his final years, York would sit by Lake Kittamaqundi "religiously," Curtis said, and gaze at the ripples in the lake and listen to the live music played there.

Despite the demands of taking care of his family, Taylor remembered that York "would make himself happy."

York is survived by his nine children, Robert, Jerry, Marie, Raymond, William, Kevin, Amy, James Jr. and Jey; and his nine grandchildren.

Contributions in Jim York's name can be made to the MRSA Foundation.

The York family is planning a private funeral.