James Ellis Powers, 84, father of his four adored children – Martha, James, Katherine (d. 1976), and John (d. 2007 )- died at home, as he wished, on April 24, 2017.
Jim was preceded in death by his first wife of 30 years, the former Joan Bender.
Jim, a former executive with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) was “hooked” on the space program from the evening he heard the honored rocket scientist Wernher von Braun give a presentation in Macon, Georgia, Jim’s home town.
Once Jim completed his military obligation, and as a direct result of the von Braun presentation, he joined the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), the predecessor of NASA.
One of the highlights of Jim’s early career – as a young man in his mid- 20’s – were the times he was invited to sit at the table when Von Braun was conducting his weekly staff meetings at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.
Jim started his career as an engineer on the NACA Scout Program, and went on to executive roles during NASA’s Apollo, Gemini, Mercury, Skylab, and Space Station programs. Over the years, he remained awed by what the NASA team was able to accomplish at the cutting edge of science. And “we were all were so very young” at the time.
The stories Jim most told about his career years always started out with words about a specific project he had worked on, but soon morphed into stories about his project coworkers. “Because people do things. Things don’t do things.” Many of his stories were also connected to education. Or golf. Or both.
The highlight of Jim’s education was the year he spent at Stanford as a National Institute of Public Affairs Fellow. When he was 35.
He served as vice chairman of the school board in Friendswood, Texas, at the time the board debated whether or not to permit dancing in the high school gym. There were many pro’s and con’s. “Mostly con’s.” The school voted Yes. “Under my direction,” he always added with a little grin.
One of Jim’s assignments at NASA involved Anita and Arabella, the spiders who went into space aboard the Skylab 3 mission as a student experiment. As Jim always told the story, he was walking up to the 10th hole, playing the best round of his single-digit golfing years, when the pro drove up in his cart to tell him, “We’ve got to get you back to a telephone. Headquarters is calling. Arabella died. They want to know what to do now.” Actually, both spiders died in space, but only one when Jim was headed toward the 10th tee.
Locally, Jim served on the Golf Course Advisory Committee, and on the Golf Course Selection Committee. He was passionate about the need for an outside management company to operate our municipal course and spent an untoward number of hours dedicated to that effort.
In 1986, Jim was joined in marriage to his treasured Deborah, and gained 3 additional children to love – Dave, John, and Megan Lavery.
Jim and Deborah now have 13 cherished grandchildren: Mary Katherine, Jocelyn, and Julianne Powers; Ian, James, and Nathan Powers; Sean, Daniel, and Megan Lavery; Aurora and Joseph Lavery; and Alexander and Dylan Gelderman.
The sons and daughters-in-law who brought Jim conversations about their worlds, along with special artistic gifts, fun, joy and warmth include: Renaud Lozano, Monica Powers, Emily Powers, Stacey McClain, Shannon Lavery, Mary Braun, Richard Gelderman, and Carol Lavery.
Jim was extremely ill during the last few weeks of his life – but rallied for two of his favorite days of the year. Saturday and Sunday of the Master’s Golf Tournament. Seeing Sergio win was an added, long hoped for, bonus.
Dearest to Jim’s heart were his family; job; golf; house swapping in Europe with Deborah & family/close friends; roses; cruises and travels with Deb and more friends; news blaring forth 24/7; researching by the hour – first in libraries and then via the internet; and Theresa Poynter’s key lime pie.
A memorial service will be held on Monday, June 19 at 2:00 pm in the Burgess Chapel of Oxley-Heard. His family will welcome friends at a celebration of Jim’s life at Cafe Karibo following the service.
In lieu of flowers, memorial donations may be made in Jim’s name to any of the following: the U S Space Camp General Scholarship Fund (https://www.rocketcenter.com/scholarshipfund), the Bladder Cancer Advocacy Network (www.bcan.org), or the Friends of the Fernandina Beach Library
(www.fernandinafol.org – under “join us” menu).