What might you learn from a 100-year-old Mentor? Dianne Derby shares some lessons.
Lessons from a 100-Year-Old Mentor
By Dianne Derby
Dianne Derby is a journalist. She raced from one event to the next, capturing stories and sound bites. Everything changed when she met centenarian Jim Downing at a luncheon for World War II veterans and he challenged her to live a life of fulfillment. At the time, Jim was the second-oldest living survivor of Pearl Harbor. They started meeting every week as Jim shared his faith in Jesus with Dianne.
When you spend every Tuesday morning with someone for five years, you learn a lot about each other. “It takes more than a howdy and a handshake to know someone,” Jim once said to me. “How well we know another person is relative to the number of shared experiences with them and the depth of those times together.”
Depth. That feels like the magic word. Jim never once— never once!— wasted time on small talk. Talking about the weather makes me tune out in about five seconds, but someone’s thoughts, inspirations, what they crave most in life—this I could talk about for hours and hours. And we did. Every time I showed up to meet with Jim, I was changed before I left the room. That’s the power of the presence of someone who was walking with Christ, passing his faith on to someone who wanted to learn.
Jim had such a sense of approachability. I wanted to learn from him because I wanted his joy. I could feel it when I was with him. He was always so interested and invested in others. He would remember things I told him for weeks afterward. Jim showed me how that kind of intentionality made people feel.
Worry: When I lay awake at night, feeling worried about the world and the future it offers to my daughter, Claire, I can remember Jim saying, “Worries are self-manufactured, and most of what we worry about never happens. Our worries are in our imagination, not in the realm of reality.” Prayer was his go-to answer for worry.
Jim also told me he navigated worry by imagining the worst-case scenario. When Jim was the captain of a navy ship during the Korean War, he once had a mission to dock the ship in a place where a typhoon had broken most of the pier away. There were rocks on each side and no tugboat. He was sure he was going to run this ship into the rocks and aground, perhaps killing someone. If any of that happened, he’d get a court-martial and never receive a position of responsibility again. That was the worst-case scenario. But that’s when he realized that no matter what happened, he’d still be okay. He would not be without the love of God or his family or his relationships with friends. As Jim said, “When I consider this, I can live with the worst-case scenario.”
Relationships: When Chip (my husband) and I cannot see eye to eye, I recall what Jim would say: “Love is the voluntary giving up of oneself for another. It is unconditional acceptance and desire of good for another person.” Chip demonstrates this far better than I do. He’s so accepting and selfless in our marriage. He makes me want to do everything so much better.
No Substitute: Jim never had a drink of alcohol, as far as I know. It was a simple decision for him. He didn’t need it. He was so alert, so present with everyone he met. He wanted to have the depth of friendship that comes without the influence of alcohol, the true transparency that can be clouded by intoxication. Jim was on to something. He taught me when you have Jesus, you don’t need any lesser things to help you cope. Jim believed God is the answer. He is the ultimate comfort, the ultimate peace. There is no substitute for the Holy Spirit.
I think of Jim every time I drive on the I-25 bridge over Cimarron Street, right near downtown Colorado Springs. This is the largest bridge in Colorado Springs, and it is named after Jim: Big green signs on both sides of the interstate announce the “Lieutenant James ‘Jim’ Downing Bridge.”
The bridge-dedication ceremony was in a park just east of the bridge on a cool fall morning in 2017. Jim was in his full navy uniform, ready to accept the dedication on behalf of all the heroes before and after him. After he thanked the people who organized the dedication and honored the veterans of the past, he left us all with one final, breathtaking quote:
“The greatest bridge is the bridge between heaven and earth.”
At more than one hundred years old, my mentor told me, “I’ve still got plenty of life left.” And right up to the very end, Jim was still teaching, still growing, still chasing down life. One of my biggest challenges every day is to live the example Jim has set for me— and I know Jim would clarify right now: “Dianne, you mean the example Jesus has set for us.”
An award-winning journalist, Dianne Derby is a longtime television anchor who currently is a co-anchor for the KOAA News5 weekday team in Colorado Springs, Colorado. She met Jim Downing at a luncheon for World War II veterans and learned from him every Tuesday for the next five years. Dianne is originally from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, with degrees from The Florida State University, University of Miami, and University of Florida. She and her husband live in Colorado Springs with their young daughter and three rescue dogs.
Taken from Two Hundred Tuesdays: What a Pearl Harbor Survivor Taught Me about Life, Love, and Faith by Dianne Derby. Copyright © 2022. Used by permission of NavPress. All rights reserved. Represented by Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.
Top - Jim Downing and Dianne at Jim's 100th birthday lunch celebration at The Navigators Headquarters (Photo Credit: Hensley family)
Middle - Cimarron Bridge Dedication ceremony 2017. The largest bridge in Colorado Springs is named after Jim (Photo Credit: Cindy Kuhn Photography)