I didn’t know Jim King well but as we have learned in our collective grieving the past 24 hours, everyone in Louisville seems to have a Jim King story, including me.
The first time I ever had an extended conversation with Jim King was just over 5 years ago when Jerry Abramson announced he would not seek reelection and Jim King’s name immediately circulated as a likely candidate for mayor.
A local community leader and mentor of mine called me and said “You have to meet the man who is going to be Louisville’s next mayor, Jim King. You will be very impressed!” I said I’d love to meet Mr King and that I had met him before but only causally and that I didn’t have a good sense of what he was like but would love an introduction and opportunity to get to know him better.
A meeting was set up and I went to one of Mr King’s banks and he met with me promptly at the exact time we had scheduled. He talked about his background, his business, and most of all, his vision for the city of Louisville and the kind of leadership he felt was needed and that he felt he could offer.
I was, indeed, very impressed.
After I left I called my mentor/friend and thanked him for urging me to meet with Mr King and introducing me to him. “What was your impression of Jim?” he asked me. “Do you think he’ll win the mayor’s race if he runs?”
“Jim King certainly has a very mayoral presence. That’s for sure.” I said. “He commands respect and has an even greater command of the issues facing our community and seems to care deeply and genuinely about our city. Those are all important qualities but I’m not sure that is what makes him stand out most as a possible candidate for mayor.”
“What do you think makes him stand out most as a candidate?” I was asked.
“Well,” I hesitated because I wasn’t sure how I was going to say what I was feeling. But it came out like this: “Well….I think after my one brief meeting with Jim King I would say that his greatest strength as a mayoral candidate is that….is that after you meet him you feel afraid NOT to vote for him.”
We both broke out into laughter before I interrupted. “I don’t mean that like it sounded. I mean that people want a strong personality for their mayor and a sense that their mayor will protect them. I felt that for sure from Jim King. He is a strong and forceful personality who doesn’t suffer fools gladly. The mayor is a CEO-type office and requires a CEO-type personality and Jim King certainly has that, too. He seems like the consummate ‘no nonsense, get ‘r done’ kind of leader. The challenge for people like Jim King in politics is that they sometimes don’t have the patience for the beauty contest aspects of a long political campaign. They just want to get on with running things”
My friend said, “Maybe so but no one will work harder or smarter than Jim King.” I agreed and that is where we left our conversation.
Jim King did run for mayor and, of course, didn’t win, but like the determined community leader he was he never let up and continued working away on behalf of Louisville and Louisvillians in the leadership role he did secure as Metro Council President. And he was relentless. A relentless worker but most of all relentlessly passionate about his work, and his family, and the betterment of the city we all had the privilege to share with Jim King.
After my first meeting with Jim King I had the opportunity to visit with him on several other occasions and these subsequent visits left a markedly different impression on me than my first. I got to see the other sides of Jim King. He was incredibly thoughtful and caring and compassionate in ways that ran far deeper than his seemingly tough exterior. He was a complex “big picture” leader, on the one hand, and yet also was easily able to singularly focus on every issue before him, no matter how small or big. And he was a local leader our entire community came to trust and rely on far more than we were ever fully aware.
After my first visit with Jim King there was never another time I used the word ‘afraid’ in conjunction with his name —until yesterday. When I told a good mutual friend that “I am afraid our city has just lost one of it’s greatest citizens.”
And we have.
RIP Mr King