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James A. Garriss

“I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith.” ~II Timothy 4:7

James A. Garriss was a loving husband, caring father, devoted brother, trailblazer, attorney, survivor and one of the funniest people you’d ever meet - even in his final moments. Born on January 20, 1948 in Powellsville, NC, Jim was the youngest of three children. Jim received his Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill where he was not just a student, but a trailblazer. During his undergraduate career, Jim recruited black high school students to UNC with Carolina Talent Search and encouraged them to pursue a college education. Then in February 1969, Jim broke a major barrier when he became Carolina’s first black assistant director of undergraduate admissions. It was a position he held for seven months before attending Columbia Law School.

After law school, Jim clerked for a federal judge in Philadelphia where he met Karen Robinson, a medical student at the University of Pennsylvania, who would become his soul mate and partner. Jim and Karen were on June 17, 1978. From there, the two moved to various places as they transitioned careers that took them to New Jersey, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Texas. Throughout his career, Jim was a pioneer as he was often the first black lawyer in different work settings. In 1996, Jim had his first close encounter with death. He was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma – an illness that prompted a move to back to Jim’s home state of North Carolina where they’d be closer to family. In 2000, Jim’s oncologist gave him a 15% chance of survival if he had a bone marrow transplant. With few donor options for minorities, Jim was fortunate he could serve as his own donor and the transplant was successful. After recovering from surgery, Jim decided to leave the corporate world, become a real estate agent and the official editor for every college application, resume and essay his children ever wrote. Jim was always a vigorous reader with a room full of books. He had an energetic personality with a zest for life. He was a firm believer of Murphy’s Law. Even though, Jim was a little hard of hearing, he was an avid listener and engaged in conversation with just about anyone. And if you ever had dinner with him, then you knew Jim’s favorite dessert was chocolate cake with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Jim was a supportive man and proud father. One of his favorite hobbies was bragging about his children, Kirstin and Kendall, and their various endeavors. He was a diehard Carolina fan who cheered for his Tar Heels in every sport; football and basketball were his favorites. Jim was also known for his honesty - a characteristic that many saw first hand, especially as he detailed his experiences battling Myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS) in the form of emails. After months of treatment, chemo and another bone marrow transplant, doctors told Jim they had exhausted all medical options.

He peacefully departed with his family by his side on December 20, 2014, but as Murphy’s Law would have it, he didn’t pass away at home, but at least he was able to close the final chapter of his life in Chapel Hill – a place he loved. Jim leaves behind his sister, Theodora Garriss Oyelowo, his brother-in-law Babatunde Oyelowo and her three children and his brother Ted Garriss, his wife, Brenda and their respective children.

Funeral Services will be held on Saturday, December 27, 2014 at Watts Chapel Baptist Church, 3703 Tryon Rd. in Raleigh at 12:00 PM preceded by a 11:00 AM visitation.

In lieu of flowers, the Garriss family asks that you make a donation to any of the following charities: Leukemia and Lymphoma Society of North Carolina UNC’s Light on the Hill Society Scholarship Carolina for the Kids Foundation

Arrangements by Haywood Funeral Home, Raleigh. (919) 832-2835