Bill James might best be remembered for his interest in newspapers.
“Bill was an excellent newspaperman, through and through,” said Doug Crews, executive director of the Missouri Press Association. “He was a savvy businessman. He loved the industry and the people of the industry.”
James, who resided in Harrisonville prior to his death Nov. 6, was the publisher of the Cass County Democrat Missourian in Harrisonville from 1985 to 2000 and of the Warrensburg Daily Star-Journal from 2007-2013.
The lifelong Cass County resident died as a result of a short term battle with lung cancer. He was 65.
“He always gave me the best of advice,” Crews recalled this week. “I'd call him up and bounce a newspaper issue off Bill. He'd analyze the issue and a couple of minutes later, he'd give me the answer I'd need. And it always was the correct answer. He was a good thinker.”
Crews said James was also a mentor to many young newspaper publishers, editors, advertising sales representatives and reporters.
“He was a devoted family man,” Crews said. “Devoted to his late wife, Mary; to his wife, Dorothy; to his sons and their families; to his grandchildren; and to the MPA family.”
A few months before his death, the MPA Board of Directors named its annual Outstanding Young Journalists awards in honor of James, linking his name into the future of outstanding young newspaper men and women.
In an email written to Crews by James on Sept. 2, the newspaper published thanked the MPA for the honor.
“I can't begin to tell you how delighted I am with the naming of the Outstanding Young Journalists Awards in my name,” James wrote. “Probably the nicest thing done for me by any organization I've associated myself with in the past 40-plus years."
Friends in Harrisonville shared similar thoughts about James.
“Bill James was just a damn good newspaper man,” said RZ Sims, former owner of RZ Motors.
The family of James’ late wife, Mary Brown James, owned Cass County Publishing at one time.
He considers the late publisher, who he referred to as “BJ,” to have been his best “buddy.”
“When I bought RZ Motors, he was the first one who called on me from the newspaper,” Sims recalled, from 1985. “We were both interested in cars at that time. From that point on, we were almost inseparable.”
James and Sims frequently traveled together and played a lot of golf. About four years ago, the friends both bought the same set of new golf clubs.
“The day before we took him to hospice, he wanted me to have his set of clubs,” Sims said. “I’ll play golf with his clubs instead of mine.”
Country Club Bank Regional President Darold Shelton was another good friend of James, and also often played golf with him.
James was a couple years ahead of Shelton at Harrisonville High School, and got to know him through school and his late wife. Shelton’s father also worked at the paper with the Browns.
Shelton says he will most playing golf with James at Twin Pines.
“He and I rode in the same golf cart together every weekend,” Shelton said. “That will be hard next spring.”
Shelton believes James’ service to the Harrisonville community, the state, and the local newspaper industry will be greatly missed.
“He was just a fun-loving guy who knew a lot of people,” Shelton said. “He will really be missed.”