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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, March 31, 2017 - Volume 45 Issue 13
IN MEMORIAM: Jim Irish (1936-2017)
Section One
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IN MEMORIAM: Jim Irish (1936-2017)

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

Jim Irish, real estate appraiser and veteran LGBT rights activist, died March 23 at the age of 80.

Jim was a member of the GSBA for at least two decades, and the group's communications manager Matt Landers described him as 'a stalwart on the Public Policy Task Force...'

He was also one of the longest-serving members of SEAMEC's Steering Committee, helping that organization interview and rate candidates for public office on their commitment to LGBT rights.

In addition, Jim was active with PFLAG, Seattle Prime Timers, and Mature Friends. He also participated in the annual AIDS Walks.

Anyone who ever visited a place where LGBT folks were likely to congregate probably ran into Jim as he made the rounds, distributing GSBA Guides, SEAMEC voter guides, and stacks of the Seattle Gay News to locations around the city. Hip replacement surgery in 2016 might have slowed Jim down, but it did not prevent him from distributing literature to LGBT-friendly venues.

Jim's activism was motivated at first by a desire to support his two Lesbian daughters, Virginia and Melissa. Much later in life, he would come out as Gay himself.

'Everybody loved him,' his daughter Melissa told SGN, 'in all the circles he ran with. He always tried to be helpful.'

'His nickname was 'Sunny Jim,' Virginia added.

In 1980, while home on leave from the Marine Corps, Melissa came out to Jim.

'There are two things I want,' she remembers Jim telling her. 'One, don't tell your mom - I think it would kill her.' 'That wasn't true,' Melissa continued. 'Mom took it very well. The second thing he asked was 'Help your sister come out too. I think she's having trouble with it.'

'His own coming out was a very, very slow process,' Melissa remembers. 'He was a very private man. We both think he was Gay for a long time, but he never really spoke about it till maybe 2013.'

Born in Syracuse, New York, in 1936, Jim attended West Point for three years and graduated from Rensselaer Polytechnic with a degree in engineering. He married his wife Donna in 1960.

Jim and Donna moved to Seattle from upstate New York in 1979. After a seven-year stint in Topeka - 1985 through 1992 - they moved back to Seattle and remained here for the rest of their lives.

Donna died in 2012 after a protracted illness, through all of which Jim tended to her daily, while still keeping up with his commitments in the LGBT community.

Jim is survived by his daughters Virginia and Melissa Irish, and grandchildren Michael and Jessica Cook.

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