By Bruce James
On Sunday morning, December 28, 1986, at age 55, Billy J. James slipped peacefully into that rest remaining for God’s people (Heb. 4:9). He had been seriously ill for several days and had fought a hard battle with cancer until finally being overcome. He had fought another battle with cancer fifteen years before, and, with God’s help won. Many times I think of how God answered good king Hezekiah’s prayer and how He answered prayer for Bill. Each time I face the grim fact of death, I realize more than ever that “this world is not my home, I’m just passing through.” But I want to do more than think of death at this time. I want to pay tribute to my uncle, brother and true friend, Billy J. James, with the hope that his example will help us all to see more clearly the true meaning of life.
Bill was a good husband and father. He loved and cared about his family deeply. He gave them everything he knew to give, especially the knowledge and example to do what’s right. Many homes lack that kind of consideration today. Bill saw the need and he filled it. Bill taught me how to love the truth – by standing up for it. He began preaching in 1955 on the south side of Chicago where a handful of courageous people of God began the task of establishing a faithful church in that area in an old store front. It wasn’t anything for our worship to be disrupted by hollering in the doors, banging on the windows, and even rotten tomatoes or eggs thrown in the windows. This did not stop the church from growing. In fact, it helped all of us in our stand. It wasn’t too long after that, that Bill got the opportunity to preach at 410 S. Michigan in Chicago. As he continued to study he was given the opportunity to move to Burbank, Illinois where he labored from 1960 to 1963. From there he and Flossie, his first wife moved to Beaver Dam, Kentucky. In 1966, they moved to, Louisville, where he worked with the West End and Eastside churches. While at Eastside, he was asked to work with the good church in Paragould, Arkansas at 2nd and Walnut. He worked with the church there for eight years at which time (1976) he was given the opportunity to move to Grenada, Mississippi. In 1980, he was asked to serve as one of the elders of that local church, an evidence of the high esteem the brethren had for him there. There he stayed until his death. For 31 years Bill preached the gospel, fought error, stood for and with Jesus Christ. You would never find Bill on the sidelines. He was always. studying, asking questions, discussing the truth with “whosoever will.” He had a keen mind and used it properly. He had no use for fence-straddlers because they have never helped the cause of Christ. While in’the hospital at Memphis, he told me of is love for my dad and mom and that he didn’t ever want to quit preaching the word. He had set the example on being one that “finished the course.”
Bill taught me how to face hardships without becoming bitter or soured on the world. His first bout with cancer was while in Paragould, Arkansas. The doctors didn’t give him much hope to live but he faced the odds and, with the help of God and family, he overcame them. During this time, his first wife, Flossie (who was the reason he became a Christian) developed complications with her heart from an early childhood disease, and after a series of strokes over a period of 18 months, passed from this life at the age of 40. On that Wednesday evening, after making preparations for her funeral, he left for the church building to teach the Wednesday Bible class. Bill, with the help of his daughters, Sharon and Denise, and his son, Billy, continued on. While in a gospel meeting in Illinois, he met Kathy Boyle, the daughter of Carmel and Marcine, one of the elders of the church. Kathy and Bill married in 1975 and had two children: Stacy (10) and Adam (6). They loved one another deeply and their goals were the same. In the summer of 1986, tumors on the brain and lung were discovered. While going through the difficult treatments of chemotherapy he received a letter from his insurance company cancelling his policy. Being one who was more than concerned with paying his debts, this seemed to have a devastating effect on his ever recovering, and finally he passed away. But even in death there were no ugly scars on his soul. He knew how to take the bitter with the sweet, how to adjust in difficult circumstances. He was a man of character. In fact, the greatest tribute that I could ever pay to Bill and men like him, is in simply saying he was a good man at home, in the church and in the community. He was a leader, not a follower, except of Jesus Christ.
Funeral services were held in Paragould, Arkansas and his body was laid to rest in Kennett, Missouri. A memorial service was also held in Grenada, Mississippi.
(Note: Bill’s wife, Kathy, is le t with a $12, 000 medical bill, not to speak of the needs of the family for the future. The church in Grenada has shown a supreme example of love and benevolence to them by continuing their support. Other brethren have sent help in their relief. If you can help in,any way, she can be contacted thru the elders at the following address. Church of Christ, 175 Van Dorn St., Grenada, MS 38901.)
Guardian of Truth XXXI: 4, p. 115
February 19, 1987