Jim McCoy: 1931-2013

Jim McCoy wanted to see a smile on everyone’s face.
Courtesy Photo

Whenever I think of Jim McCoy, I think of the word magnanimous.

McCoy was a big bear of a guy who was welcoming to all who came in and around his life. He was open hearted and interested in other people, and just basically had room for everybody. I always marveled that a guy with two kids would marry a woman who came with four boys in tow. McCoy’s heart was big enough to take them all and make it work.

My first memory of McCoy was at his McConnell’s Fine Ice Creams at Mission and State. He gave a free ice cream cone if you had an “A” on your report card. The Holmes girls and my sister and I would ride our bikes down to the corner. Behind the counter was the perennially amiable Big Jim McCoy. When we walked in, his face would break into a big crinkly eyed smile, reminding me of Bert Lahr as the Lion in The Wizard of Oz. We would present our report cards, he would look them over thoughtfully — never perfunctorily — and exclaim, “Your parents must be so proud of you! What flavor can I get you today!”

He seemed to take a genuine interest in our little achievements. This must have cost him a lot of “cold cash,” providing hundreds of kids freebies from his small freezer, but Jim was generous to the core.

As a community leader, he truly valued people’s opinions, remarking, “I am interested in what Jack has to say. What do you think we ought to do?” He was the savvy, successful business man, but he listened. Whenever he hired me as a marketing consultant, he would say, “You’re the professional; what would you advise?”

He loved to see people happy, saying famously, “I just want to see a big smile on everyone’s face.” To that end he had a wonderful sense of humor and fun. He brought me in to plot the famous “Cow in the Plaza” campaign. This was a tongue-in-cheek press conference to place the “McConnell’s cow” (atop his factory on Milpas) to grace the former statue-pedestal in Storke Placita (about four remodels ago). People from Father Virgil to a Santa Barbara Police Department captain made parody speeches about cows. A gal showed up with a song she had written, and the campaign even earned an approving editorial from Nick Welsh. Only recently, Jim was back at it, asking me to design a decor for the cow for each month. This was a guy with a healthy sense of play.

Jeney and Jim were active in Los Fiesteros, a social dance club. Jim loved to dance, and he danced with a lot of style. Well, actually it was a lot of one style. He looked like a big teddy bear waddling happily side to side. If there was a waltz, he’d careen side to side in three beats. If it was a swing tune, he’d sway faster to the beat, and then out with his big bear arm to turn his partner. If the number was rock (preferably “Green River,” with his irrepressible Jeney bopping a mile a minute around him), his head would lean back in a big grin — while he rocked and rolled from side to side. No matter which music and which party — a country-western band at the University Club, swing band at Los Fiesteros, rock band at Jeney’s Elegant Evening event, black-tie event at Coral Casino — Jim McCoy and Jim Garcia (my husband) were always the very last ones off the dance floor with their wives. If we ever looked like we were heading for the door, Jim would call out, “The Garcias can’t go — the McCoys are still here!” We shut those dance floors down.

Jeney and Jim came with me when I brought a huge group to Santa Barbara’s sister city of Dingle, Ireland. One of our happiest memories was the night a dozen of us were at the Blue Note club after midnight. Local jazz man Peter Clark was with us, and he took over at the piano. Jim cherished the thought of all his friends together in such an enchanting place.

As El Presidente of Old Spanish Days’ Fiesta, McCoy was in his element. It was all about making sure everyone was having a good time. He personified the mantra “Mi casa es su casa,” extending that sense of hospitality to all. Jim called every woman beautiful, and he meant it, but it was never a threat to his adored wife, Jeney, because we all knew she was the most beautiful of all, and he never hesitated to state so. And as women, we loved him for it.

Jim sought God and was not afraid of saying so. For years, Jim met weekly with four other men to discuss and deliberate about God. He probed, listened, and humbly asked questions. Jim told me he wanted to be a minister at one point and even had his minister’s license.

Well, the Bible says God is a rewarder of those who seek him diligently, and I think Big Jim McCoy now has his answers.


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