James Joseph Matthews was born on April 26, 1952, at around 5:15 a.m., on a cold and stormy morning on the Atlantic Ocean aboard a freighter bound to Canada from Ireland. He was the first of six children born to Benjamin, an electrician, and Catherine, a homemaker.
The ship was less than 1,000 km from St. John’s, N.L., at the time of his birth and the local press quickly picked up on the story. Soon, everybody knew the Irish immigrants by name and James’s father had no trouble getting a job after they docked. The family did not stay long, though. Less than three months later, they relocated to the suburbs of Toronto, where Benjamin found a better paying job with more regular hours.
The Matthews children had a comfortable life, albiet one fraught with sibling rivalry and intense competition, says Mary Matthews, James’s sister. In high school, James, known to everybody as Jim, was one of the few students with a car—a white Ford Anglia he purchased for $40 that he and his friends would drive up and down Yonge Street, music blaring.
After high school, Jim worked briefly at the Toronto Telegram in the circulation department until the paper folded in 1971. Soon, he landed a similar job at the Toronto Star. He moved out of his parents’ home when he married at 21. But the marriage ended painfully three years later.
At work, Jim could sometimes come across as a slacker. In reality, he was just efficient and made things look easy, says Joseph Johnston, a close friend whose father and brother both worked with Jim. Jim liked to say that he got paid for results, not activity. He made good use of his downtime, too, organizing an annual ski trip to Quebec with his colleagues, which grew to include busloads of people. For Jim, the trips were really about socializing and good food and drink. He loved to talk and could hold a conversation about anything from the arts to the stock market. “Breakfast with Jim would last three to six hours, with multiple pots of coffee,” says Joseph.
When Joseph went through a divorce, Jim let him and his toddler move into his home; he ended up staying for three years. “My son took over the house and Jim didn’t care,” says Joseph. Along with being generous, he was a notorious shopaholic who “couldn’t stand to pay full price for anything,” says Mary. Jim would call people up from stores if there was a sale on to ask if he could pick something up for them.
Jim was always up for a new adventure. When he was in his 20s, his neighbour, a keen sailor, inspired him to buy a sailboat. He joined a camera club and loved taking nature shots, especially around water. He enjoyed golf, but was more inclined to chat on the course than swing a club. In his 30s, Jim started dating Susie Quattrociocchi and the couple travelled all over North America and Europe together. Around the same time, he decided to sell his boat and buy a house. Susie and Jim dated for more than 15 years and sometimes talked about having children. The relationship ended before that happened, but the two remained close.
After Jim retired, at 50, he sold his house and moved to Naples, Fla. He shuttled between there and his family’s Toronto home, as well as Ireland, where he tended to his mother’s old farmhouse. A new companion entered Jim’s life: Buddy, a cream cockapoo that accompanied him everywhere. At burger joints, they would share a meal—Buddy would have the meat and Jim the bun. Jim could be insensitive at times, but his friendship with Buddy changed him, says Mary. “He became a far more empathetic person.”
An accident on a ski hill shortly after he retired left Jim with two broken legs. He was never as nimble as he used to be after that and he gained weight. He became concerned when his arm started to go numb and he had trouble translating his thoughts into text messages, says Mary. Feeling the pressures of aging, Jim told Mary in a phone call in early December that “he wasn’t long for this earth.”
On Dec. 13, Jim went fishing with his friends and a new girlfriend off the coast of Naples. The seas were rough, much like the day he was born. Jim’s numb arm grew worse. He asked his girlfriend to rub it when, suddenly, he collapsed. He had suffered a massive stroke and was declared dead around 5:15 p.m. He was 61.