A kind, gentle man died yesterday, April 14, 2005, in San Rafael, California. A small white car hit a tree. No other vehicles were involved. A witness called the police and reported the accident but did not think anyone was injured. San Rafael police arrived on the scene and rushed the driver to Marin General hospital where he was pronounced dead.
Jim Scanlon was 71 years old when he died of a "cardiac event" that probably preceded the single car accident, according to the Marin County Coroner's office.
Today the Marin Independent Journal ran an article by Con Garretson that gave the facts of Jim's life. It also described the impact Jim Scanlon had those he encountered.
A native of New York City, he worked as a juvenile probation officer in Marin for 26 years, from 1968 until he retired in 1994. He was a regular contributor for 30 years to the Coastal Post, a free 13,000-circulation monthly tabloid in Bolinas.
Friends and colleagues described Scanlon as athletic, affable and passionate about his work and the causes with which he aligned himself, including the environment and perceived injustices in the county court system.
He was said to have a way with wayward youth, never talking down to them. Many of those he oversaw would come back to visit him years later to thank him for his role in turning their lives around.
"That's where his love was, working with people," said Nancy Boggs, an adult probation officer who knew Scanlon for 37 years and supervised him for six years while she worked in juvenile probation. "He never had aspirations to climb up the (employment) ladder."
During his career with the county, Scanlon filled nearly every role in the juvenile probation system, from working in Juvenile Hall to overseeing probationers, said Nicky Kuhn, who will soon become director of the department.
"He was a real renaissance man," Kuhn said. "He had all kinds of interests and was very gentlemanly. He was very warm with people and had empathy when people got in trouble."
At one point, he was the only Spanish language speaker in the department, a language he practices on annual trips to Argentina as part of his research on ozone issues.
"He wrote many articles about the ozone layer and was very concerned about that," Boggs said. "When he became interested in something, he really became involved in it."
It is so very difficult for reporters to do justice to a life when they can use only limited words and when they face constant deadlines. The sudden, unexpected passing of a person of quality, like Jim Scanlon, leaves journalists emotionally distraught and angry at their own inability to adequately describe the loss to those whose lives the deceased has touched.
Jim Scanlon made an immense impact on this reporter's life in the past year that we have been communicating and sharing information on wide variety of subjects. Jim first contacted me by email on March 3, 2004 requesting information and documentation about an article I had posted on Marin County Judge Michael Buck Dufficy. He said that he reported for the Coastal Post and he was looking into the Marin County Court corruption. Always the skeptic I asked other journalists if they knew anything about this Scanlon man. No one did, and I called him back to learn more about him. It was the beginning of a good, if too brief, friendship.
Jim was a true gentleman -- something very hard to find in today's world. With a shock of white hair and piercing blue eyes always showing interest in what you were saying, it was impossible to dislike the man. I soon learned to appreciate his subtle sense of humor which showed itself at the oddest moments.
In an email dated May 15, 2004 Jim said, "So far my articles (on Marin family law issues) have not provoked any comment even though they have been somewhat more confrontational than previous ones I have written. This one though, should provoke some kind of response or responses." Then he added a post script: "Strictly speaking, biologically, only a female animal can be truly cloned since the nucleus of the cell containing the hereditary material must be placed into an egg from a female which contains organelles which carry their own hereditary material. This is not to mention that carrying the cloned fetus to term with the same original mother would not be the same IF it could be arranged at all because of age, and, of course raising the child would also be very different. --- Nevertheless, reading family court files over the last few weeks, I got to thinking that cloning, or really pathogenesis, is not such a bad idea."
Two weeks ago, Jim and I sat talking for three and a half hours in the Marin County courthouse cafeteria. We had just attended a hearing on the Sarah Nome case and we were exchanging notes and ideas about the disgraceful manner in which the 82-year-old bedridden woman was being treated by Kaiser Hospital, the media and the Marin County court system. From time to time, Jim would point out a court official or county employee who was involved in the case. Several times, women would come over to our table and greeted Jim with a hug. He would always stand to acknowledge the greeting; he was truly an old fashioned gentleman. It was obvious to anyone watching that he was popular and well known.
From the time I first heard about Jim's passing late yesterday afternoon and all day today, people have called expressing their sorrow at his death. Women whose children have been stolen by Marin's corrupt family law courts, people who had been covered in Jim Scanlon's writings, co-workers, scientists who knew of his dedication to the environment, readers who followed his articles and people he encountered in his daily travels
-- they all conveyed a deep sense of loss. Don Deane, Scanlon's editor at the Coastal Post called his long- time friend and reporter irreplaceable and his passing and his death an "enormous loss" to many.
In an article that citizen scientist Jim Scanlon wrote for the Coastal Post entitled Letter from Magallanes, Part 11 he describes the interesting people he met on the Antarctic Peninsula.
You meet interesting people in Punta Arenas if you stay a while. I met an American geologist from the University of Texas prowling around the main square with his just out of the box Nikon digital camera. "Six megapixels! And it takes my old Nicor lenses -- only $2,000.00!" He and another professor were part of a team on a dangerous journey to set up extremely precise Global Positioning Instruments on small uninhabited islands that form the Scotia Arc to the north of the Antarctic Peninsula. These instruments will measure down to a centimeter, the movement of the great tectonic plates that make up the earth. Friendly, smart, capable, nice guys.
The American geologist with the brand new camera was Forrest M. Mims III, the Chairman of the Environmental Science Section at the Texas Academy of Science and editor of The Citizen Scientist. In June of 2004 Mims wrote a tribute to his friend entitled "Jim Scanlon Ozone Scientist" which was published in the online edition of that newspaper (Click. to read article).
Following a phone call during which we talked about our mutual friend's passing, Forrest kept repeating, "What a loss. What a loss!" He followed up our conversation with an email in which he expressed his feelings about Jim.
Jim Scanlon was a role model of a citizen scientist. He didn't just talk about science. He searched the literature and he spend his own money to attend sophisticated scientific conferences sponsored by the American Geophysical Union (AGU) and the International Society of Optical Engineering (SPIE).
Jim also did science. Using a borrowed Microtops II, he measured the ozone layer from Puntas Arena at the tip of South America. He became concerned about the lack of atmospheric measurements at this vital site. On his last trip, he donated a few thousand of his own dollars and some equipment to help the local officials digitize weather records dating back to the 1850's.
Through all this, Jim showed a serious interest in the culture in which he lived or visited. His letters from Chile are peppered with observations about the good and the bad he observed. Jim spoke fluent Spanish, and he even sent me some translations of newspaper articles that he thought would interest me.
Later, I'll write much more about Jim for The Citizen Scientist. I will also publish some of his best correspondence.
Jim Scanlon always treated others with kindness and courtesy and he wrote about how much he appreciated those qualities in others. In December of 2001, he wrote a Letter from Chile for the Coastal Post. He said:
I like Chile. The people are sort of old fashioned, very polite, honest and courteous and always well dressed. When someone walks into the breakfast room at a hotel, they say "buenos dias" and everyone says "buenos dias", everyone acknowledging each other's presence. On leaving a person says, "buen provecho" to those still eating and they nod and say thanks. Passengers say "gracias" to the driver of a "collectivo" for stopping, and she or he will say "gracias" for the 200 peso fare, and so forth.
I always pick up the courtesy when I am here and I seem to be come less moody, to behave a little better, and become a little more friendly and open. And I know my mother would approve.
Now that Jim Scanlon is no longer with us, perhaps the best tribute we can give him is to look at our fellow citizens through his eyes and emulate the way he treated others. It would make our world a better place.
by Virginia McCullough © April 15, 2005
JIM SCANLON AND HIS WIFE AND THEIR PUPPIES