Now that perhaps there’s a little light at the end of the tunnel, we want to take a moment to remember a man who was an institution at the Orvis Rod Shop in Manchester, Vermont, for many years. Jim West, the first person at Orvis to make a graphite fly rod, passed away on March 19th (unrelated to the current pandemic). Jim played a huge role in Orvis’s being “ahead of our time since the beginning,” and consequently had great influence on the fly-fishing landscape–even while very few people outside of Orvis knew his name.
Jim was a beloved figure at the rod shop, and lots of folks have good stories about him–including the time that he accidentally backed his truck into the pond at the flagship store, to the delight of his coworkers. We asked some of the Orvis associates who worked with him over the years to share their thoughts:
Jim was my neighbor, and he would often catch me sneaking around in his backyard as the river behind my house also runs through his. Although we only lived a half mile apart, I didn’t see much of Jim because he was a very private person, happiest I think driving his riding lawn mower around or building a greenhouse for his wife, Sheila. What I remember most was his uncompromising dedication to Orvis rod customers. If a customer had a special request, no matter how unusual or even unreasonable, Jim would make it happen–often without any paper trail, as from his long years in the rod shop Jim knew how to get things done no matter what the official procedures said. He probably drove up the blood pressure of many accountants over the years, but he sure kept customers loyal and happy.
Paul Fersen, former Orvis Senior Writer:
While I’ve broken a few rods on fish, admittedly, the majority of the rods I’ve broken over the years were due to my stumbling, bumbling, and stupidity. I would sheepishly bring the rod to the shop for repair with some embarrassing explanation, and inevitably Jim would smile and reassure me in his quiet way that it would be fine, and even more importantly, that he was happy to help. With all he had to do, he could easily have been short–“Just leave it there”–or given me well-deserved grief, but that was not Jim’s way. He was talented, kind, humble, and exuded that quiet confidence that always left me feeling better walking out of the shop than I did walking in, no matter what the situation. That’s a rare quality these days. He was a craftsman, a gentleman, and a friend.
Pam Champine, Orvis Rod Repair Supervisor:
Bud was Jim’s beer of choice, and we would all chip in for his B-day or Christmas. He never wanted to accept it from us, but always gave a smile and eye roll that told you he appreciated it. “Dedicated and customer-centric” would best describe Jimmy’s work ethic . He was happiest when he was helping customers. And if he couldn’t help, he knew someone who could.
Most stories I have are ones that probably shouldn’t be put into print, but I’ll share one that still cracks me up. Jimmy and Willie Knight rented a U-Haul to pick up a shipment of graphite out of state. This was back when Vermont’s Civil Union law first took effect. Our night-shift crew slapped a HUGE poster board on the back of the truck before they left that said “Just Married in VT”. They got a ton of honking and waiving on the way and couldn’t figure out why till they got to their destination. We laughed all day thinking about those two and their confused faces!
Norm Bowen, Plant Manager
Jim was co-worker and a great friend. He and I are the only ones who could get lost heading to Sandanona for the guide rendezvous. At the end of the day, we were asked if we wanted some game meat, and Jim said, “I don’t want any, but Norm will take some, plus what you would have given me.” He was always that generous.
One time, the rod-shop team went to fish the upper Connecticut in drift boats. We startedat around 8:00, just as it started pouring rain. At every bend in the river, Jim would say, “Where the hell is that bridge we get out at?” We ended up getting off the water at about 5:00 p.m., after hearing Jim saying “Where the hell is that bridge we get out at?” about 100 times.
I enjoyed fishing on Cape Cod with Jim. We would hook up with Warren Marshall, our guide and friend, and head out. Jim would fly cast for maybe a half hour and then just sit and watch. I would fish for the rest of the day, and when I would hook a nice bass, I would hand the rod to Jim to bring in.
Jim Lepage, former Vice President of Orvis Rod & Tackle:
Jim was the king of rod repairs. Jim prioritized guide and lodge rod repairs, especially in season, because he knew that people’s livelihoods depended on those rods. He got to know many in the Orvis-endorsed family, and he would make sure they had their rods back in a couple days. Period. He became so well known that, for a few years, we would bring Jim to the annual Orvis Guide Rendezvous, and when we introduced him he would get a standing ovation for his dedicated work on repairs for that community.
Shawn Combs, Orvis Head Product Designer:
Jim West was my first true friend at the rod shop. He taught me a lot of things but most importantly, he showed me the importance of customer service.
Jim’s legacy is one of excellence in craftsmanship and a dedication to customer service, and the folks working in the Orvis Rod Shop strive to live up to his example to this day.