It is appropriate that Jim Selman left this world gently Tuesday morning because that was the way he lived. His family by his side in a Tampa assisted living home, Jim’s body finally surrendered to the ravages of Alzheimer’s, infections and the other plagues of advancing age.
He was 91.
When it was time to go, eternity tiptoed softly to this wonderful and decent man and took him by the hand. If you believe, as I do, that heaven exists for people like Jim Selman, then I know the gates opened wide while his beloved wife, Barbara, waited patiently inside for their reunion.
Jim was one of the first people I met when I joined the Tampa Tribune’s sports department in 1974. I was young, stupid and full of vinegar — everything he was not. He treated me kindly anyway. He covered the expansion Tampa Bay Buccaneers for several years, and I can think of few people in that position who were as beloved as him.
That goes for players, coaches, readers and especially those he worked beside. Believe me, praise doesn’t come easy from all those super-charged yet fragile egos in the press box or the locker room.
If this makes Jim sound a little like a choir boy, that’s exactly what he was. He had a deep, rich singing voice and for years led the Lake Carroll Baptist Church choir. This was a much larger part of his life than covering the Bucs or any of the other stuff he did so well and long for the Trib.
There was a boom box in his room at the assisted living facility because he liked to listen to gospel music. His son, David, remembers coming into his room to visit and seeing his dad asleep, but with the sound of Amazing Grace filling the room.
“Dad raised his right hand like he was directing the choir,” David said. “And I’m sure he was.”
Jim joined the U.S. Navy when he turned 18 in the middle of World War II. He didn’t even wait to finish high school because his country needed him. He later finished, of course (he didn’t like to leave things undone) and also graduated from the University of Florida.
Funny thing about that. People who knew Jim as the main Bucs’ writer may forget that he spent more time covering Florida State University football. He loved the Seminoles, too.
Of all sports though, I think he loved baseball best. He covered the Cincinnati Reds when they trained here, and I never saw him happier on the job. I can still see him at Al Lopez Field in Tampa, chatting up Sparky Anderson, Johnny Bench and Pete Rose of the fabled Big Red Machine.
Baseball would remain a key part of his life. After the Rays came to Tampa Bay, he would call me occasionally to talk about the team. And as his health deteriorated and he needed assisted care, David made sure to visit every night so they could watch the Rays together.
You could tell the effect the relentless march of Alzheimer’s was having when friends and family gathered last year at his church for his 90th birthday party. He struggled to remember names, but a tender smile never left his face. He loved being around people.
David got a call Tuesday around 4:30 a.m. that the end was near. He joined the family around his father’s bedside, and soon Jim slipped quietly away. I am at least happy it was peaceful.
Readers are left to remember a terrific newsman and sports writer, and that counts for a lot.
Trust me though, he was an even better human being. That counts for more.
Joe Henderson’s column runs Sundays in the Tampa Tribune. Follow @JHendersonTampa