A good man gone

Robert Speer is senior editor of the News & Review group of papers.

Jim Dimmitt, the former publisher of the Chico Enterprise-Record, who died last week, and I were unlikely friends. I say unlikely because he was a Mormon and a rock-ribbed Republican, while I’m a practicing Buddhist and a liberal Democrat. He worked for the E-R, I for its competition, the News & Review. Besides, he was a publisher, a bottom-line guy, while I was an editor, one of those free-spenders who don’t know the meaning of the word “profit.”

Still, we liked each other.

Part of the reason, I think, is because we first met in the steam room at our health club. Whoever you are in the outside world, brain surgeon or pizza delivery guy, in the steam room you’re just another naked man. Jim, who owned a couple of vintage Packards, was talking with someone about classic cars, a good steam room subject. I mentioned that I’d once owned a 1953 MG roadster, and we were off, swapping stories and cracking jokes.

I liked Jim’s garrulousness immediately, the way he called everyone “Bub” and seemed to enjoy being one of the boys. He was utterly unpretentious. You’d never have known that, before he retired in 2000, he’d been responsible for nine newspapers, including the E-R, and all their employees.

He didn’t ask me for my opinion of his newspaper, and I didn’t ask him for his of mine. The only time he mentioned business to me was one afternoon in the health club parking lot, when he agonized about having to demote someone who wasn’t doing the job. It’s a boss’s toughest job, and I could see he hated doing it.

In the last years of his life Jim spent a lot of time at the Chico Sports Club, making a new circle of friends there. When he learned he had amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig’s disease, he shared his feelings openly with some of us, progressing through bruised anger to a kind of sweet acceptance. I can see him now, smiling at me and saying, “Enjoy the little moments, Bob. Life is a lot of beautiful little moments.”

His 69th birthday was Feb. 11, and on Monday, Feb. 10, his family hosted a party for him at their home. Jim was bedridden and needed oxygen, but he was clearly happy to have family and friends around. Someone commented on a photograph on the wall of him and Ronald Reagan. “I bet you voted for him,” the man said. Jim nodded, held up two fingers—"twice"—and smiled.

There was a large photo of the whole Dimmitt family on the living room wall. It showed Jim and his wife Betty and all five of their children and a passel of grandkids—a handsome and vibrant clan with a grinning, silver-haired paterfamilias and his wife at the center. Watching Betty Dimmitt bustle about, attending cheerfully to guests and to Jim, I saw how fortunate he had been to have such a devoted helpmate.

Jim Dimmitt died four days later, on Valentine’s Day morning. As an important man in the community, he deserves to be honored. But I can tell you, as his friend, that he also deserves to be honored simply as a good man who cared deeply about people.