2007 – 27 Years Ago Today…

At the 2007 Spirit Family Day Picnic, Roman Steele (Spirit Contra ”95-”98) brought us copies of documents many people had never before seen.
They were letters that were written by Harold “Pops” Ott and Bonnie Ott for a memorial service held to honor their son and brother, Jim, after his untimely passing. The heartfelt words they wrote to the Spirit family take many of us back to those days… to a time where many of us grew up much faster than we thought possible. Their words urged the members to strive for the very best to honor a teacher, mentor, and friend they had lost too soon.
Thanks to Roman for saving these documents and keeping them safe all these years.
Thanks to Mike Morris for transcribing the pages so that we can share them with you.

JULY 14, 1980

This is Pops Ott talking to Spirit of Atlanta, and when I say Spirit of Atlanta, I mean to all of you who are, or have been in some way, a part of Jim’s short stay with you.
We have lost a good friend. To us here, he was our pride and joy. We are a close family and Jim shared all his life with us which included his life with you. Because we all grew up in the drum corps world, we are aware of the highs and lows of a competing corps.
He was so proud for the corps this year. He told us over and over again that there was more talent and nicer people there than he had ever known before.
This is a super bad time for you and I’m not good at giving a speech, but every time you practice or perform, remember all that Jim has taught you this year. Close your eyes and you will see him in front of you to remind you of each mistake or misjudgment you have made during practice or a show. Remember also that you, each and every one, are performing the last musical charts he has ever arranged. Me and my family are counting on you to give your best these next few weeks. Remember also that Jim would rather hear you play with heart and feeling than ever do a sterile, dry, unfeeling performance. You know as long as you did your very best, that was all he ever asked of you.
I know it sounds as though I’m talking to only the horn line, but that is not true at all. No matter what part you play in the total show, the same thing applies to you. Every thing that each of you does complements the musical show he has written.
You know, fate has a cruel way with us. There seems to be no justice for what has happened to all of us. Jim has acquired many friends in the short 30 years of his life. I hope all of you have had a good relationship with him and maybe some small part of him will have rubbed off on each one of you.
All that he ever wanted was that his music be played so that you and everyone could enjoy it.
We have brought him home here to Stockton but all of you know that he will be standing with you at every performance, so don’t choke, but go out and do the job as you would when Jim would have said, “All right!”
What Jim has given you, no one can take away. It is yours to keep forever. He had a rare gift. There are but few people on this earth able to spend their lives doing exactly what they truly enjoy and able to do a super job at it. He was one of those very, very fortunate people in that respect. He had a far richer life than most of us.
I would like to be in Birmingham this year, but I’m not sure it will be possible. However, if I come, I will come and say hello and wish you the best. If I can’t make it, I want to tell you right now to “Go for it!” We here in Stockton and I know Jim also, will be in your corner cheering.

From Bonnie Ott:
This is Bonnie, Jim’s sister, to Spirit of Atlanta.
This is so difficult for me to do. Jim and I were always so close. But I will attempt to relay a few of my thoughts.
Jim loved music; better yet, he loved good music and Spirit’s horn line to the fullest degree. Let me try and explain why.
One reason is because you were all his own. He trained you to be the musicians you are, but beyond that technical side, there is the emotional side and Spirit’s line always sends shivers through and through. Because Jim and I shared so many ideas and feelings, I know this is the horn line that was meant for him.
Jim was a persuasive person. Please donÂ’t take that in the wrong way. He was persuasive, but in a gentle, loving and caring way, to let you know he was doing what was best for you. He persuaded everyone in your corps to perform with that special emotional ingredient, but especially the horn line. He talked you into understanding and feeling everything that came out of your horn bells and I know he would not want that to stop.
He would be so sad if you fell apart or if you didn’t do what you know to do.
Jim was fun, so always convey that in your performances. Close your eyes and concentrate on the schooling you’ve received from him and I know he’ll smile at each and every one of you.
Lloyd will also be thinking of you and wishing you his best. He loved you all and Jim so much that he ignored his health and joined you people to share his knowledge and be a part of something that was created to be beautiful.
I hurt, Lloyd hurts, my family and friends hurt, but we must go on. Let’s just be grateful that we’ve been able to learn and know a wonderful person.
If you can, just bow your heads and think of Jim clad in his shorts, tee shirt, thongs, sunglasses and, sometimes, a toothpick, with a great big smile on his face and then you smile back. God loves you all.