James Gordon McWilliam died on Sunday, February 5, 2017 at a local care facility from complications resulting from a fall at home on January 11 in which he broke his neck. Jim was born in Sacramento, California on September 25, 1931 to William Wallace McWilliam and Ruth Burke Gordon. He was proud of being the fourth generation of his father’s family born in California. His great, great grandparents traveled by oxen and covered wagon across the country from Toronto, Canada in 1847 to settle in Clay Station, California, southeast of Sacramento.
He was raised in Woodland, California and attended local public schools except for grade four, when he was enrolled in Holy Rosary Academy in Woodland, and grade seven where he attend Christian Brothers’ School in Sacramento. Jim did not adapt well to either private school. However, he did enjoy learning to play the piano, violin, guitar, ukulele and trombone. He graduated from Woodland High School in 1949 where he was a yell leader, swam competitively and was selected to attend Boys State.
Following high school, he attended Menlo Junior College for a year in preparation for admission to Stanford University. He attended Stanford for two years before volunteering for the draft. He spent two years as a private in the U.S. Army where he made private first class three times on waivers after being demoted for some army infraction. Despite volunteering to go to Korea, he spent his entire army career stationed in California in a variety of assignments including working as a medic and company clerk.
There was little academic assistance for returning GI’s in the 1950’s and Jim was enrolled in junior classes when he returned to Stanford, including third year German that he failed. Discouraged by the inflexibility of the academic program, his next stop was the ski slopes of Squaw Valley where he held a variety of jobs including playing folk songs in the bar. The highlight of his music career was one evening, playing backup for Lena Horne. He auditioned with several music companies to release his collection of folk songs but never was “discovered.” Finally, after not making progress in the music field, he enrolled in the University of California Davis where he graduated in 1958 in a new program where he completed three minors: mathematics, physics and chemistry.
Following graduation, he worked as a chemist for Canada Dry Corporation. Then with a partner, he left Canada Dry to build their own consulting business to prepare companies, in the food industry, to pass health inspection rules. When his partner died unexpectedly at age 29, Jim was forced to sell the business to provide financial support to his partner’s widow. He then took a position with National Can Corporation in San Francisco as a research chemist.
Living in the Bay Area in the sixties was a great place to be young and single. In addition to skiing, partying and racing sports cars, Jim enjoyed sharing his music and collecting limericks. Jim met his wife to be, Carole Baldwin, at a performance of Most Happy Fellow. They were married on August 3, 1963 and two years later purchased a home in Mill Valley, just across the Golden Gate Bridge. In 1967, their son Andrew was born.
Then, National Can was going to transfer Jim to Chicago. Rather than moving to Chicago, Jim decided to return to graduate school at Idaho State University to study ecology in preparation to be an environmentalist. At that time, few people knew what ecology was. Jim completed a master’s degree in botany and went to work for the State of Idaho in air quality control. The Idaho legislature decided to do away with rules regarding air quality, not anticipating intervention by the federal government. At that point, Jim went to work for JR Simplot as an environmentalist until he retired in 1998.
Jim was an avid fly fisherman and loved back packing in the Beartooth Mountains. He arranged annual jaunts into the wilderness for friends from all over the country. When he was too old to backpack, he still participated in white water rafting in Canada, Wyoming, Colorado, Idaho, Utah. He also was an enthusiastic hunter despite his lack of success. Down hill skiing was his favorite activity and participated in family outings until his late seventies. Jim spent many hours collecting limericks and classifying them by topic. As of three years ago he had over 1.3 million in his collection and could recite an untold number.
Jim is survived by his wife of 53 years, Carole Baldwin McWilliam, his son Andrew Gordon McWilliam, his granddaughters Linnea McWilliam and Annika McWilliam and daughter in-law, Anne-Mette Andersen, his sister Myrna Towle, nephews Robert and William Towle , and 18 first cousins.
Jim’s wishes were that he be cremated and that no viewing be held. A Memorial Service will be held at the First Presbyterian Church, 202 South 7th Avenue, Pocatello on Saturday February 11, 2017 at 2:00 p.m. Following the service, the family will greet those attending. All are invited to join with the family at the Juniper Hills Country Club to share refreshment, immediately following the service, 6600 Bannock Highway, Pocatello.
In Lieu of flowers contributions may be made to individual charities in Jim’s memory or to the Pocatello High School Foundation, 325 North Arthur, Pocatello 83204.