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JAMES, John Chambers

December 3, 1935 – January 14, 2012

… Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
… Do not go gentle into that good night.
… Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
– Dylan Thomas (who understood)

John James of Calgary passed away Saturday morning in an uncharacteristically gentle manner, but not before he’d savoured every drop of life and fought hard to stay at the party. He waged a heroic battle with cancer for 12 years, but refused to let it mellow his rip-roaring approach to life. It’s hard to imagine a world in which J.J. is not cooking, laughing, exploring or telling stories – there was never a lull in the action when J.J. was around.

In a 2005 article, J.J.’s beloved granddaughter, journalist Amber Webb-Bowerman, celebrated the seemingly unstoppable force that was her grandpa. Amber, who predeceased J.J. in 2008, had captured his spirit in print: “As far as I’m concerned, every family worth its salt includes a colourful, larger-than-life character. For our family, that’s J.J.” Even in his final days, J.J. sparked delighted smiles and raised eyebrows with his humour, personal magnetism and unusual tattoo.

John Chambers James was born in Eston, Saskatchewan, where his father, Frederick, was a station agent for the CPR; John’s mother Louise was a nurse in Eston. As a young man in the 1950s, J.J. began a career in seismic exploration. He became a true seismic hero whose achievements and exploits were legendary in the field.

J.J. met Dolores Murray in Sundre, Alberta in 1958. John, Dolores and their daughters embarked on a life of adventure and discovery that took them around the world, but Calgary remained their home base.

A sojourner in far-flung, often remote areas of the globe with his seismic crews, J.J. saw and did most anything a man could see and do. In Amber’s words, he would “regale anyone within earshot with bigger-than-life tales of adventure/debauchery in Peru, Egypt, Spain, Singapore, Australia – the list goes one and on….”

A man of many facets, J.J. was a Reiki master, winemaker and collector (his house is filled with rocks, fossils, antiques, and curiosities from around the world – a personal hoard to make a curator envious). John loved to work with his hands, and was a skilled handyman. He once owned one of the original food trucks in Calgary, J.J.’s Roadkill Café, and his achievements in the kitchen created lasting memories; we will not see the like of his award-winning Sizzling Sphincter hot sauce again. J.J.’s deep-fried turkey, fluffy biscuits and amazing spaghetti sauce were among the many dishes created to feed the crowd that seemed to gather spontaneously when he was cooking. John loved to welcome others into his home and somehow managed to make every guest feel his or her presence was a particular delight. His genius for making friends wherever he went ensured there was always something stirring – on the stove as well as in his life.

Family and friends surrounded J.J. throughout his final journey, which he fought valiantly, without complaint and with his customary humour. J.J. is lovingly remembered by daughters Brenda (Bill) Kollias of Lethbridge, Susan Webb of Calgary, Lolly James (Keith) Fletcher of Calgary, and Laura James of Calgary. Adjusting to life without Grandpa are Jonny Webb of Calgary, Kostas Kollias of Lethbridge, Anna (Scott) Mundell and JJ.’s great-grandson, Logan James Mundell, of Pincher Creek. J.J. is also lovingly remembered by special friend Kay Sulek of Calgary, and his two brothers and a sister: Edward (Lois) James of Rapid City, SD; Virginia Rhinehart of Sun Valley, ID; and Frieda (Barry) Tibbitt of Eston, SK.

Like a meteor that hurtled through the sky and over horizon, J.J. has left us, but goes on: death reunites him with his “Sapphire” (Amber), and his beloved Dolores, to trade stories and laughter once more.

J.J.’s family would like to thank the wonderful staff at Southwood Intercare Hospice and the Tom Baker Cancer Centre for their excellent and compassionate care.

As J.J. requested, a joyous celebration of his life will take place this spring: email for info. J.J will be cremated and interred at Union Cemetery with Amber, Dolores and Grandma Jesse. Tributes, as well as memories of his uproarious escapades, may be forwarded to McInnis and Holloway at In lieu of flowers, donations to the Amber Webb-Bowerman Memorial Foundation at will be gratefully accepted: the legacy continues.

Thanks for the adventure, Daddy! We love you and miss you.

In living memory of John James, a tree will be planted at Fish Creek Provincial Park by McINNIS & HOLLOWAY FUNERAL HOMES Park Memorial Chapel, 5008 ELBOW DRIVE S.W. Telephone: (403)243-8200

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Condolence Messages

  1. Wendy & Andy Griffiths :

    Remembering John James…

    I have a feeling, there is one more star up in the sky tonight… shining ever so bright…for there was never ever a dull moment or experience when you were around JJ!!!

    He was a very sweet man who would do anything for you and he will be truly missed!

    Here’s to keeping his memories close to you in spirit and in your hearts today and forever!

    Our sincere condolences,
    Wendy & Andy Griffiths

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  2. JJ’s daughters and grandchildren, so sorry to hear of JJ’s passing. I had the great pleasure of working with JJ @ Solid State Geophysical, and also meeting you girls on our numerous outings from the office.JJ was so proud of each and everyone of you, and spoke of you all often in my office. Him & I had some very good and close conversations about life in general and he always was uplifting and positive about anything to do with life. I had heard he was a different person after your mother had passed, I would of loved to of known him at that time as he was a gentleman all thru the few short years I did meet him. God Blessed JJ with a big heart his numerous friends co-workers and family will always remember him, whether it be for stories, or his tattoo (lol) he will be dearly missed.
    Rob & Diana Weber (Salmon Arm, B.C.)

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  3. Heaven will never be the same – RIP JJ

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  4. Charlene MacKay ( Murf ) :

    To JJ’s family,

    My deepest sympathy for your loss. He was an amazing person and friend to me. I have so many great memories that I will always treasure. The trip to Grande Prairie for the tattoo was a one of kind trip which we laughed all the way there and all the way back. He could always put a smile on my face and was always there if I ever needed someone . He was one of my best friends and I loved him dearly.

    Thinking of you all,


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  5. Lisa and Wayne Dewar :

    Laura, Lolly and Family:

    So sorry to hear of JJ’s passing. He was always a constant source of hilarity at the Fox. Our fond memories and crazy stories will live on forever.

    Lisa and Wayne Dewar

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  6. Derek Folland :

    So sorry to hear of JJ’s passing. JJ is a legend on Pei as everyone that worked with him always had many stories to tell. JJ made a trip to Pei with me when we worked in Grand Bend Ontario together one summer. That trip started off by sleeping in the airport for the night in Toronto as the flights were cancelled ( I got a blast for that!) He was a great man that was a great friend to us all from the east coast and made times easy when we missed home! I know you will be looking down on us all J keeping your eyes on us. The only question is what set of eyes you will use to watch me? You will be sadly missed.

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  7. Toaray Von Dayme :

    My first reaction any time JJ comes to mind is to smirk, laugh, and feel fortunate to have encountered such a full of life character. He seemed to exude a non-verbal knowledge that one should not take life too seriously, of which the icing on life’s cake was his effortlessly simple laugh.

    JJ kindly hosted us during a turbulent time in our younger days, and inadvertently reinforced simple values about living life, an honor he also bestowed to our pet snake and our since passed puppy, Jubba (although the snake had its own prerogative to explorer JJs castle.). Leaving Jubba with JJ for 2 months meant to us he was in the best possible care. Pubs, women, beer, chilli, and Reiki with JJ.

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  8. Janel Martinkowski :

    My heart goes out to you and your families. Although I was only able to meet JJ once, Kevin regaled me with stories. When I did meet him, the man truly embodied the legend. I regret I had not met him sooner. It is because of JJ’s advice that reiki helped Kevin through his own journey and still helps me today. I will always remember him with fondness.

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