One Amazing Man

What a man and what a life!  Jim Austin was born on Feb. 26, 1928 in Hubbard, Tx., to Cecil Earl and Edna Smith Austin.

He was preceded in death by his parents; son David; brother Hillard; sister Jacqueline; sisters-in-law and brothers-in-law George and Mozelle Smith and Henry and June Medford.

He is survived by his wife of almost 68 years, Virginia; son, Gregory and his wife, Janiece, along with their five children, Mary Caroline, Tara Montgomery, Jonathan David, Olivia Kathryn, and Reece Nixon, of Beaumont. He also enjoyed his many nieces and nephews over the years.

There’s no better place to begin this story than at the very humble start of life in Hubbard. Following his big brother Hillard around to watermelon patches and playing cowboys and Indians seem to be the road to fun in the early 1930’s.  The first signs of his compassionate nature and dear love of animals were shown by the continual arrival at the doorstep with yet another stray dog for which to care. Later in his life, he and his boys would bring home an abandoned baby goat from a hunting trip, riding in style in the back of a new Cadillac.

Entering a new phase of life in 1944, he left Arlington Heights High School to follow his brother into the Merchant Marines at the age of 16, after convincing his parents to sign the age waiver for him to enter service.  Unbelievably, he managed to be assigned to the same ship as his brother doing a tour in the Pacific to the Suez Canal. He returned from service and married Virginia Cox on Jan., 2, 1947 in her mothers’ home. This began a love story too beautiful to be defined with words. In 1949 and 1956, God gifted them with the beautiful lives of sons James David and Gregory Alan. Never was there ever a bigger place in his heart than the love he had for these three people in his life. His mission was always to provide for and protect them to the best of his ability: he never failed in his untiring efforts toward this goal.

After a short career in insurance in Fort Worth, Jim found his second true love: automobiles. Starting with used cars, his first deal occurred at a stop light when he offered to trade cars with the driver of the car next to him. He often told people he would trade almost anything but his family. He quickly became very successful with his given talent leading to the purchase of the Oldsmobile dealership in downtown Orange. His incredible vision and cavalier spirit for “what could be,” led him to purchase frontage property on Interstate 10 and move this business.

To complete this dream, he also designed the dealership building without the benefit of any architecture or drafting education. His true passion for the car business and his compassionate leadership of his employees led to much recognition including President of New Car Dealers Association of Orange and an appointment to the Advisory Board of General Motors in the early 70’s. More important than these appointments was the well being and happiness of his employees. He went to great lengths to support and encourage success by initiating programs such as buying a brand new suit to the top salesman every month. For some, this may have been a first in their lives. He was always involved in the personal lives of the people around him, not just as employees or associates, but as friends. His random, yet anonymous, acts of kindness and generosity are too many to name. Somewhere out there is a girl from the Winnie, area that was able to compete in rodeos because of Jim’s purchase of saddles for her horse: although she may have never known his identity. His advice was always to give with love and not expect repayment.

After selling the Orange dealership in 1978, Jim explored many other interests including real estate, banking and the undying effort to restore and enhance downtown Beaumont.

Jim and Virginia developed a love of travel through business opportunities and with their many dear couple friends from all walks of life. Stories are numerous about the many jokes Jim would enjoy playing on friends. Once, while preparing for a trip to Aruba with Patsy and Joe Norman, Jim called Patsy to say there had been a cold front in Aruba. Patsy arrived at the airport flocked in her fur coat and suitcases full of sweaters. After the initial shock, there were years of laughter.

One of the dearest examples of Jim’s love of family came shortly after the loss of their son David in 1973. Jim saw the need to relocate his family, to aid in the healing process, and took it upon himself to purchase a home at 1375 Audubon. He moved Virginia and Greg to begin their new phase of life.

Beginning on Feb. 12, 1996, Jim acquired the title of which he was most proud in his life: Papa!  This is where his glory years began. He always said it was the best of both worlds because he was able to be a grandfather and a kid, all at the same time. He and Mimi would sit in the dark and rock their premature granddaughters, providing Greg and Janiece a chance to sleep. He graduated to “floor duty” during the toddler years, feeding (and being fed) ice cream to insure nutritional needs were met by all. He had perfected this skill by the time his last grandchild arrived, spending more time on the floor with each child. He and Mimi were always ecstatic with the birth of each grandchild, always adding that we needed to have more, and more, and more. We think he was finally somewhat satisfied. The years his grandchildren had with him were priceless. For some, it would be hard to find time to make each child feel special.

When asked if he had a favorite, he had the perfect response: “The one in front of me at that time!”  Always pulling them close to him in a bear hug, they never, ever doubted how much they were loved.  It was pure and unconditional. He attended dance recitals, soccer games, baseball games, softball games, volleyball games, piano recitals, basketball games, golf tournaments, Christmas pageants, plays, church programs, school chapel programs as long as he could, physically. He always anxiously awaited full reports from those few he missed.

As many of you have witnessed, there were no bigger stars than his grandchildren. He was most proud of their strong faith, and Christian values, which he mentored to them daily. His favorite events were their birthday parties. At one birthday party, a blow-up slide was rented for the kids. After seeing the joy it brought to the kids, Papa wanted to purchase it for a permanent fixture. He was sadly denied and promptly bought a trampoline for his house. He was famous for playing chase with the kids, inside the house, in his socks, making Mimi doubly nervous. He was never to be denied any fun he wished to enjoy with his grandchildren.

Papa also “adopted” Janiece’s two nieces and two nephews as his own. He loved being a part of their lives, watching them grow up playing with their cousins, as he did in his youth. How do you summarize the life of a man as diverse as Jim Austin?  I believe the answer lies in his core Christian beliefs of honesty, moral integrity and a true love of our Savior, Jesus Christ. He lived by the “a handshake is your word” motto and impressed that on his kids and grandkids, teaching that you have nothing if you don’t have your word. Our family is so very thankful for the love, values and fun Papa brought into our lives.  God rest the soul of a beautiful and well-lived life.

His funeral service will be at 10:00 a.m., Monday, Dec. 8, at Westgate Memorial Baptist Church, 6220 Westgate Drive, Beaumont, with interment to follow at Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Beaumont.

Memorial contributions may be made to Alzheimer’s Association, 700 North Street, Suite M, Beaumont, Texas 77701; Julie Rogers “Gift of Life” Program, 2390 Dowlen Road, Beaumont, Texas 77706; or to Westgate Memorial Baptist Church, 6220 Westgate Drive, Beaumont, Texas 77706.