Readers of last week's Journal who were around these parts from the mid-1980s or so onwards recognized a once-very familiar name among the obituary columns. Jim Sparkman was a community activist and watchdog who made a passion of monitoring town development and planning regulations. In that connection, needless to say, he was a frequent visitor to the Journal's old newsroom on Memorial Avenue and a not-infrequent contributor to the email in-box, sharing his thoughts and observations on what was going on around town, or what might be going on.
To say Jim was a controversial figure during a roughly 20 year stretch from 1990 - 2010, when the shape of contemporary Manchester was formed, would be a major understatement. There were not many issues published by this newspaper during that period when his name did not appear in at least one story originating from the planning commission or select board, where he would be questioning one thing or another. Love him or hate him — and there were many who fell into one camp or the other — he was a presence in town.
Less well known was his love of running and his participation in some of the early Maple Leaf Half Marathons, when that event was in its infancy. He was also a competitve runner until well into his 70s. No doubt that passion helped fuel other passions.
Jim was one of those who came to Vermont during the 1960s, when the state was branding itself — before that overused marketing term was coined — as "The Beckoning Country." Vermont beckoned and Jim came, forging a career in real estate and soaking up the outdoor recreations the area had to offer. In return, he gave back in his own way.
Towns need watchdogs and someone willing to stick their necks out, and Jim certainly played that role to the hilt, and then some. Hopefully, in our increasingly overworked, time pressured, homogenized and stressed out world there will be the space for nervous bundles of energy like Jim Sparkman. He had an amazing knack for showing up in the newsroom at supremely awkward moments when we'd be busy and -- well, stressed out. Jim would not always be a balm for those nerves. Eventually, he would go away. You always knew he'd be back, however.
Rest in peace, Jim.