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Remembering Jim Fisher

On Thursday I woke up to the terrible news that my long time friend and mentor Jim Fisher had died suddenly.

The day before a friend of mine had been contacted on Facebook to see if anyone knew about his whereabouts. I passed along the message to his local HAM community, but I didn’t think much of it (because Facebook, right?). His death came as a tremendous shock to me, and I spent moments here and there throughout my day on Thursday talking to my friends in ##phillyhams. Sharing in grief helps a little.

I met Jim when I joined the Ubuntu Pennsyvlania Local Community team in the mid aughts. He was active in events and finding new communities for us to be engaged with. He had many connections throughout the region and was eager to get Ubuntu-based computers in the hands of folks in need. As a result of his outreach, he worked with everyone from computer recycling organizations to non-profits that helped young people. It was a real golden age for the promise of desktop Linux that had been renewed by the development of Ubuntu. Jim was a whirlwind of welcoming energy at all these events, making sure newcomers were seen and encouraged, and encouraging us all to try new things.

He also always made sure we were all fed. His day job was for a bakery and so he’d bring goodies to all our events, and had the inside scoop to venues that would be good for Ubuntu release parties all around Philadelphia. As I was looking through photos on Thursday (which I’ve collected here), I was reminded that even for events he couldn’t participate in, he’d drop off some pastries and cake for us to enjoy. I fell in love with those Oreo cakes, and even once I moved to California, I could depend upon him bringing one to the annual FOSSCON event in Philadelphia, which I almost always attended.

I don’t recall the precise timing of when he joined the amateur radio community, but once he did, we all heard about it. He brought even more enthusiasm to that community and my visits to Philly kept seeing more and more of my technical friends getting into or resurrecting their interest in amateur radio thanks to his encouragement and excitement. Even I succumbed to it, getting my ham radio license had always been on my to do list, but I am not sure I ever would have prioritized it if not for Jim’s encouragement. In the summer of 2021, I passed my test with him right there with me (virtually, pandemic times). As I read through the AJ3DI – Silent Key posts on the The Phil-Mont Mobile Radio Club mailing list, I could see that his involvement and encouragement of others was tremendous.

From Linux to radio, Jim encouraged countless people to be fearless, and to tinker and fail. Then he was right there with us to celebrate our successes, and immediately jump into our next challenge. As someone who tends to be a careful perfectionist, his voice was what I needed at key points in my life, even on matters that were a lot more personal. We kept in contact via IRC, so I was still chatting with him a couple times a week, even though I moved to California over a decade ago. The last conversation we had was just last week about my kids, and some of the challenges I was experiencing. His wise words of acceptance were, once again, exactly what I needed to hear.

I will be a bit unbalanced without his humor and guidance when I start taking myself too seriously, there aren’t many people in my life who throw out raw wisdom like he did. I already miss him.