I am fortunate. I have had a parent die, but never a child nor a sibling nor a spouse. I have lost friends and classmates to death, but never my best friend.
When Bend journalist Jim Witty was felled by a heart attack in November at the much-too-young age of 50, his survivors included his mother, his wife, his brother, his sister, two sons, a stepdaughter, a granddaughter, and his best friend of more than three decades, Mark Quon, a local graphic designer and musician.
The friendship of Quon and Witty goes back to their high-school days in Southern California in 1973. Their friendship carried through Jim’s journalism studies at Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo; through his early adult life in small-town journalism in Corning and Fortuna, Calif., Longview, Wash., and Hilo, Hawaii. Jim settled in Bend in 1999, joining The Bulletin as environmental and natural-resources reporter, and began writing the newspaper’s “Outings” feature not long thereafter. When Mark and his wife, Linda, moved to Bend in 2003, it was at Jim’s bidding.
I knew Jim only casually. We would occasionally correspond about story topics, restaurants and travel destinations. At the Big Sky Dog Park, Jim’s four-legged friend Henry and my dog Banjo would chase balls and each other as we stood and watched and chatted. Jim always wore a big smile, and his laugh, I could swear, echoed off the trees and rocks.
I was Jim’s 12th Facebook friend. This is spooky. I was out of town when he died on November 17. When I returned to Bend on the 20th, having just learned of his passing, I had a “Friend Request” waiting … from Jim Witty. He was contacting me from the grave.
I knew from talking to Jim, as well as from his writing, that he was a keen outdoorsman. He loved hiking and camping, fishing and bicycling. Enthusiasm and humor flowed through his stories as he took readers on mountain and badlands trails, and on lake and river excursions, around central Oregon and throughout the Northwest.
Now, in collaboration with Bend’s daily newspaper, family and friends are compiling a collection of his articles. It was a project that Jim already had been working on. The as-yet-unnamed book is scheduled for publication in October, with selected work to be accompanied by black-and-white photography.
Aside from words and wandering, Jim was a serious music lover. He was an enthusiastic guitar player, sang with passion and loved all kinds of classic rock music, from Lou Reed to Willie Nelson. This was a man who once looked Mick Jagger in the eye and asked him, “Do you know who my favorite rock star is?” Replied Jagger: “No, who?” Responded Witty: “David Bowie!”
On Sunday, March 15 — mark your calendars, please — Mark Quon will lead a celebration of nature and music to celebrate Jim’s spirit. Outdoors lovers are being encouraged to plan their own “Witty Walkabout” day hike, whether in the badlands, the Cascade foothills or elsewhere. At 3, music lovers will gather at Silver Moon Brewery on Greenwood Avenue for an open “Jim Jam” session. “Bring your instruments, voices or just your thirst,” Quon says. “We will sing songs, discuss our hikes and raise a glass to celebrate Jim’s birthday.” The event is open to all ages until 8 p.m.
An online memorial to Jim Witty is posted at: http://www.tribute.perfectmemorials.com/jim-witty. A second website, to promote the collection of Witty stories and to gauge interest in the book, is: http://www.outings.webs.com. Listen to Mark’s beautiful tribute song to Jim, performed by The Quons (Mark and Linda), on the Outings site or at http://www.myspace.com/thequons.
For more information: Mark Quon, 1818 SW Turnberry Place, Bend, OR 97702; 541-617-5811, firstname.lastname@example.org.