Obituary for James Hollis Tomlinson
Burlington – The Reverend James Hollis Tomlinson, 71, passed away Sunday, March 19, 2017 at the UVM Medical Center in Burlington, Vermont.
He was born July 13, 1945 in Burlington, Vermont the second son of Wayne and Catherine Tomlinson, who eventually settled on Lyman Avenue in Burlington’s south side. He is survived by his two sons, Maitreya and Devin Tomlinson, his daughter-in-law, Rachel Higdon Tomlinson and his granddaughter, Lily Catherine Tomlinson. James is also survived by his younger brother, Raymond Tomlinson and his children: Raymond, Jr., Kristen, and Brian. And, he is survived by the children of his predeceased brother, Richard Tomlinson: Meredith and Jennifer. Lastly, James was survived by many other beloved relatives and friends.
Throughout his life, James was a man of many names and addresses. He was James, Jim, Hollis, Jimmy T, the Reverend Jimmy T, the Reverend James H. Tomlinson, and Papa. Growing up, James was a cub and boy scout. He played baseball and participated in the Order of Demolay as a member and master counselor. James enjoyed an early brush with fame when the local paper published a photograph of him and his brother Raymond playing guitar in a teenaged band. He graduated from Edmunds High School in 1963, working full and part time while in school.After graduation, James frequently moved, residing in various reaches of Chittenden and Franklin Counties, San Francisco, and England. He also crisscrossed the county multiple times, either by thumb or some form of arranged transportation.
James’ early life heavily involved music, work, and the counter culture. He owned and operated what he has previously termed a “cabaret” business in Winooski called The Third Thumb. A rarity in mid-Sixties Vermont, the “cabaret” was a folk club that attracted artists, musicians, and long hair. It also, at times, attracted the local authority’s attention, which was a little bemused with the changes in men’s hairstyles and cultural mores. James eventually moved to San Francisco in 1966 and became enmeshed in the local— soon to be national—music and cultural scene. Among other things, San Francisco provided James with chance encounters that imparted him with lifelong friends, including when James was on his way to a new job as an orderly in the mental hospital later made famous in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Later, James joined his friends in England to help road manage their band, The Daddy Long Legs, on its European tour. He enjoyed the fruits of fame, television appearances, and associations with other present and future renowned musical talents.He
also dealt with the rigors of touring and interpersonal relationships.
James was also a (or performed work as a) cab driver, union man, contractor, carpenter, plumber, electrician, painter, census worker, politician,ever-faithful Freemason, and loving father. He was also a spiritual man. James was an ordained minister, who performed countless weddings, delivered sermons at First Baptist Churches, and enjoyed thoughtful conversations with adherents of many religions and/or philosophies.
While he restlessly navigated his life, there were a few constants. James cherished his family. He spent quality time with his parents, his brothers, and other members of his family. Consequently, he filled his sons’ childhoods with fond memories of frequent roadtrips, visiting friends and family throughout Vermont, New England, and other parts of the country.
James also cherished his extended family. James met Rosemary Morgan, Maitreya and Devin’s mother, during his time in Great Britain, which ended in an era-appropriate, largely hippy wedding in the English countryside and a life spread around various Vermont locales. He later married Nan Orshan and helped raise her two children: Nathaniel and Gabriel Orshan.
James loved people and embraced public service. On a personal level, James would provide kindness and charity even when he had little to give. If he had 10 and needed 6 to live, he would give away 8. For better or for worse, James would take in people, physically and emotionally, when others would not. Throughout his life, James focused on mental illness. This included serving on various boards and cultivating peer support groups to help illuminate mental health issues, nurture compassionate therapeutic relationships with those who suffered, and provide support while drawing on his own experiences.
James enjoyed serving the public in other ways. He volunteered as a firefighter and EMT. James was the Village of Richford’s trustee and police commissioner. He also acted as the Town of Richford’s emergency management director, lister, and chairperson of the board of listers. He further supervised Richford’s solid waste district and was the board director of the Richford Economic Advancement Committee. And, he served on the Franklin-Grand Isle transportation advisory committee. All of which prompted James to eventually run for the Vermont House of Representatives.
James also loved occasions to visit with old friends, make new ones, and enjoy music. Among others, he attended the famous Woodstock music festival. He consistently attended the (albeit less famous, but always enjoyable) Jig in the Valley, an annual event in East Fairfield, Vermont. In his later years, James enjoyed Grand Point North on Lake Champlain’s picturesque banks. James also (almost) never missed his longtime friend Bert Muzzy’s annual First Day of Winter party, which is occurring on June 18th this year and will be held his honor.
A graveside service at the Maplewood Cemetery in Huntington, Vermont will be held on Friday, June 9, 2017 at 1:00 p.m. and a celebration-of-life memorial will be held on Saturday June 10th at Oakledge Park, Upper Shelter Pavilion from 3:30 - 9:00 p.m. BYOB - No glass please. Memorial contributions may be made in the memory of James to the Vermont Psychiatric Survivors, 128 Merchants Row, Suite 606, Rutland, VT 05701.
We can only provide a snapshot of James, colored by our own memories and stories related to us. Please feel free to treat this as a canvas to add your own. Remember that, despite his faults, he loved you all. Also, be comforted by the fact that he was at peace with dying and saw it as an opportunity to reunite with those who passed before him and to wait for those who will join him.
Lastly, this is a poem we found in his apartment, which we sense he wanted to share after his passing:
To those I love
When I am gone, release me, let me go. I have
so many things to see and do. You mustn’t tie
yourself to me with tears, Be happy that we had
so many years. I gave you my love, you can
only guess How much you gave to me in
happiness. I thank you for the love you each
have shown, But now it’s time I traveled on
alone. So grieve a while for me, if grieve you
must, Then let your grief be comforted by trust.
It’s only for a little while that we must part. So
bless the memories within your heart. I won’t
be far away, for life goes on. So if you need
me, call and I will come. Though you can’t see
or touch me, I’ll be near. And if you listen with
your heart, you’ll hear All of my love around
you soft and clear. And then, when you must
come this way alone, I’ll greet you with a smile
and “welcome home.”
We hope to see you all in June.