My first encounter with Jim Armstrong at the movies more than a decade ago. I had no idea he was Santa Barbara’s city administrator, but he and his wife, Linda, were clearly film fans, so I struck up a conversation with them as they sat on the aisle, two rows from the screen, like always. She was vivacious, passionate, and animated, raving about the film she’s just seen. Jim (or “Bim” as she calls him) was quite the opposite: shy, listening intently, but clearly enjoying his wife’s excitement.
That first meeting and the many since made me understand how Jim can be both unobtrusive and effective in his role as Santa Barbara’s top bureaucrat. For so many years, he’s helped make our town a better place while sitting back and quietly enjoying seeing the city grow in strength and prominence.
I was happy that, before retiring from his position, Jim spent some times answering the Proust questionnaire.
Which historical figure do you most identify with?
George C. Marshall, the Army Chief of Staff in World War II, and later Secretary of War and Secretary of State. During the War, he was the ultimate behind-the-scenes player who had to prepare our nation for war. I have nothing like the responsibilities that George Marshall had as Chief of Staff of the Army. But I do have a role behind the scenes to make sure all the moving parts of our city government work well.
What is your current state of mind?
I am generally happy and contented. I am ending a fantastic career in city government with the city organization in great shape. However, I am also a little apprehensive about retiring. When you are a very organized person like I am, it is a little unnerving going into this next phase without a real plan in place. But I am sure I will find lots of different experiences to keep me motivated.
What is your most marked characteristic?
I am goal-oriented. At work, I like to have a plan in place for just about every aspect of my work. At home, I am also that way. And of course, it sometimes drives my wife nuts.
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
I would like to learn to relax more. I am very high energy, and have a hard time just relaxing and kicking back.
What is it you like most about your job?
I love the incredible people with whom I get to work. That includes some very smart and talented employees who care deeply about the city. And it includes a diverse group of citizens who volunteer to serve on the City Council, volunteer boards, and commissions, and on various non-profit and business groups. Santa Barbara is the special place it is today because so many people are involved in every facet of the community.
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Having a great marriage for almost 36 years with my wife Linda.
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
A nice dinner with my wife Linda at a great restaurant with a beautiful view. Add in a great bottle of wine. Sitting outside at the El Encanto or the Biltmore comes to mind.
What is your greatest fear?
My greatest fear is not aging well. Even though I have tried to keep in good health, it scares me to think I might end up with a debilitating illness in my last few years of life.
Who do you most admire?
The man I have admired the most over the past several years is Nelson Mandela. He was an incredible role model who suffered for so many years under apartheid. Yet once he was released from prison, he made it a point to work with his oppressors and set South Africa on a course of relative peace and economic growth. The rest of Africa, and the world, need more leaders like Nelson Mandela.
What is your greatest extravagance?
Traveling to far off destinations. Linda and I love to travel and experience different cultures and lifestyles. Even though we have traveled extensively over the years, there are still so many more places I would love to see.
What is the quality you most like in people?
Passion and a sense of humor. I love to spend time with people who are passionate about what they do, whether it is their job or their hobbies. Over the course of history, the passionate people are usually the ones who have created the most change and progress.
What is the quality you most dislike in people?
My pet peeve is people who are not totally honest and straightforward. I don’t like to play 20 questions to find out the truth about an issue.
What do you most value in friends?
A sense of humor. When I get together with close friends, I love to just kick back, enjoy a nice bottle of wine, and laugh until the tears run down your face.
Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
The word I tend to over use is “great.” The term I tend to over use is: “Just thinking out loud.”
Which talent would you most like to have?
I would love to be able to draw well. I have no artistic talent whatsoever.
Where would you most like to live?
Santa Barbara, of course. Even though I love to travel, it is always so great to come back home to this amazing place.
What is your most treasured possession?
Our airplane. A 1972 Beech Bonanza V-Tail.
On what occasion do you lie?
Not very often. But I have learned to be very diplomatic over the years.
Who makes you laugh the most?
My wife, Linda. She has an infectious laugh and sense of humor, and you can’t be around her very long without laughing out loud.
What is your motto?
“Take the high road.”