James Durham, 1934-2007

Family, friends, colleagues, and
generations of students mourn the loss and celebrate the legacy of
husband, father, teacher, author, golfer, gourmand, musician, and
sage James Cicero Durham. Jim was my English teacher when I was in
high school and the first mentor to advise me when I became a
teacher myself shortly after graduating from college. For me and
many others, Jim’s voice and presence will live on every time we
sit down to write or stand up to teach.

Born in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, Jim enjoyed a distinctive
high school career and graduated from Carleton College in 1957. He
would later earn his master’s degree from the University of
California. After a brief period of service in the Army Reserve,
Jim joined the faculty of the American School in Switzerland, where
he taught English and served as director of public relations from
1960-62. Jim returned to the United States to pursue independent
public relations projects and meet his muse, Pat.

After their marriage in 1963, Jim and Pat moved to Sheffield,
Massachusetts, where he taught English at the Berkshire School.
Known at Berkshire as “BullDurham” for his strength and prowess as
a wrestling coach, Jim also supervised student publications and
satisfied a lifelong love of the theater by directing the drama
department. The Durhams’ sons, Matthew and Andrew, were born during
this time.

In 1969, Jim was recruited by Cate School and moved his young
family west to Carpinteria. Throughout 33 years of service on the
Cate Mesa, Jim was a respected and beloved colleague, mentor, and
friend. The depth of his service to education is extraordinary; in
addition to teaching and coaching baseball and soccer — two sports
he enjoyed immensely — Jim advised numerous student publications,
chaired the English department, served as director of studies and
secretary of the Cum Laude Society, directed musical theater, and
was appointed to the Board of Trustees as Cate School’s first
faculty advisory trustee. Many on the Cate Mesa credit Jim’s
influence as one of the factors in his school’s rise to preeminence
as one of the country’s best residential secondary schools.

Even while working, earning his advanced degree, and raising his
family, Jim managed to find time to write two highly effective
grammar and writing textbooks, To Write, Write: Writing and And
Then Revise. Both books are still in use today, five years after
declining health required Jim to retire from active teaching in
2002. For all his professional accomplishments, however, Jim leaves
as his greatest legacy not so much academic success as a deep and
true appreciation of language, music, life, and all it has to

The following was written by our mutual friend Monique Parsons,
class of ’84:

“Whenever people ask me about my experience at Cate, the first
thing that comes to mind is Mr. Durham’s classroom. I see him in
his tan corduroy jacket, hunched over, holding a paperback copy of
something great — Othello, maybe, or Faulkner’s Intruder in the
Dust. He’s whacking the book on the table, or tapping it hard with
one finger. He’s got a sly grin on his face, his eyebrows are
raised, and he’s looking around the table at us, waiting for us to
speak. That sense of expectation — what will Mona have to say? Or
Nan? Or Vinny? What is Shakespeare trying to say? — had us on the
edge of our seats. Not that we always said something brilliant. But
the sense in that classroom was somebody just might. The books we
read with Mr. Durham were hard, but he peeled them back like
onions. I never left that classroom without a better appreciation
of a character, or a classmate, or a turn of phrase.

“Mr. Durham made me see that good writing is about sound and
rhythm and the quiet places in between. As a writer, it’s something
I think about every day. I picture him walking across the Mesa,
moving to the rhythm of words.”

Jim is missed by so many: his brothers, Laird and Frank; sister,
Anne; wife, Pat; sons, Matthew and Andrew; daughters-in-law,
Victoria and Natalie; grandchildren, Cayman and Travis; and all who
had the privilege to know him.

A memorial service will be held at the Katherine Thayer Cate
Memorial Chapel at 2 p.m. on Saturday, March 3. The Durham family
requests no flowers, please; donations may be made in Jim’s name to
Cate School and/or Hospice of Santa Barbara.


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