by Barbara Bamberger Scott with John Cannon
Jim (James Howard) Cannon passed away on March 14, 2017, at the age of 84.
A friend sent me his obituary in The Raleigh News and Observer: “Jim was born on March 5, 1933, in High Point, North Carolina, the son of John Webb Sr. and Carrie (Norman) Cannon. Jim served in the U.S. Navy during the Korean conflict before graduating from the University of North Carolina with both a mathematics and French degree. He worked for RCA as an electronic engineer, and then used his passion of woodworking to become a skilled carpenter. He went on to fulfill his dream of building his own home, tucked back in the woods of Chatham County, where he exemplified joie de vivre.”
I first met Jim in Chapel Hill around 1966. Like us, he was immersed in the hippie subculture, using drugs and talking openly about it. Jim’s conversation also revealed a powerful intellect. We ran into him occasionally and always found his company enjoyable. It seemed he could always find a reason to laugh, even at himself. After the events surrounding Meher Baba’s Chapel Hill Darshan in 1967, Jim was a bemused observer who recalled “the good vibrations of people … who were into Baba” but he “continued to struggle with alcohol and drug addictions.” (Quoted in Golden Thread: Meher Baba―Chapel Hill―1967, by Barbara Scott)
When Adi K. Irani came to Chapel Hill in about 1979 to give a public talk, Jim crashed in to the small meeting hall, very inebriated. Just before Adi began to talk, Jim went up into the balcony and began to shout. The gist of his ranting seemed to be that he wanted Adi to show him Meher Baba! He was quite belligerent in his insistence that if Meher Baba was real, Adi should be able and willing to somehow make Baba appear then and there. Someone called the campus police, who gently led Jim away. After the talk, Adi asked Marshall Hay about Jim, expressing serious concern for him, a man who was desperate, Adi said, for God. Adi told Marshall that Jim was a great lover of God. This was not something Adi would have said lightly.
According to Jim’s son John, after that incident, Adi took time to talk privately to Jim. “It meant very much to Papa … he recalled Adi looking straight into his eyes when he spoke to him.” Adi told Jim he would be a happy man if he stopped using drugs. Soon afterwards, John recalls, “Papa first got a job, and part of the payment was a used van. After being homeless for so many years, he finally had a place to sleep. He lived in his van for five years as he saved to buy land in the country, which he did with cash. He did all his work on the land he acquired, after a long day on a paying job or on weekends. He built his beloved shop all by himself.” When Jim retired he had “endless projects and hobbies.” He visited the Meher Center at least once a year for a week. “Papa was indeed a creature of habit if there ever has been one, but he also was one with a lot of patience. A strong mind with patience is a powerful combination.”
In 2000 I began to write Golden Thread, based on interviews with people who had been in Chapel Hill for Meher Baba’s 1967 Darshan. Jim told me a few things when I phoned him. I was able to report in the book that “he outlived alcohol and drug problems … and occasionally visits the Center.” In 2012, I went to Sheriar Press to do a reading for my book about the 1969 Darshan, The Empty Chair. Jim was in the audience of about 25 people, but surprisingly I didn’t recognize him, so afterwards he had to identify himself. He looked like a normal, well-integrated person, nothing like his former “hippie” self. Totally transformed ― except for the lovely smile. That had not changed, only gotten sweeter.