Goodnight: 'Jim-Bob' Hamner dies at 67
The youngest child in the beloved '70s television series The Waltons was called Jim-Bob. On April 1, the real-life Jim-Bob– James E. Hamner– who lived most of his life in the family home in Schuyler, died in the arms of his sister Audrey.
For thousands of Waltons' fans who poured into Schuyler to visit the Walton's Mountain Museum and the Hamner homeplace, he was the living embodiment of the Waltons.
"He did represent something, and he tried to live up to it," says family friend Isis Ringrose.
She recalls a constant barrage of visitors knocking at his door. "They looked at him as an institution," says Ringrose. "He was gracious. He represented the world of the Waltons without bringing in any of his pain and suffering."
Hamner, who died from lung cancer at age 67, was born in the house in Schuyler and lived there until last December, when the house was auctioned.
"I've gotten too old, and my health doesn't allow me to do the work that needs to be done," Hamner told The Hook last November.
He moved to an apartment in Charlottesville, and his older brother, Waltons' creator Earl Hamner, thinks the change was a good one. "He'd been living in that house all his life. I think he liked moving into a shiny new apartment. His friends always congregated around him, sitting on the porch. I think that continued."
Sitting on the front porch of the Schuyler house after a reunion of the show's cast members is Waltons International Fan Club president Carolyn Grinnell's favorite memory. The last time she saw Hamner, "We sat on the porch and had a beautiful time," she says. "He kissed me on the cheek, and said, 'I love you, darlin'.'"
Things were not always so harmonic in Schuyler. In 2002, Jim and Earl Hamner had a bitter falling out with the Walton's Mountain Museum after the board of directors voted Jim out as treasurer. Earl withdrew his support– and his memorabilia– from the museum.
Ringrose thinks the animosity with the museum may have been a factor in Jim's decision to move to Charlottesville. "I think he didn't want anyone to see him dying," she says.
Hamner worked for 35 years as a systems analyst in patient financial services at UVA. Even after he retired, his expertise was frequently needed. "He was always willing to help," says former co-worker Frances Coffey. "He loved people asking him questions."
When he was first diagnosed with emphysema, his friends at the hospital, says Coffey, were "devastated," and she admits, "I tried to cure him with my Jello shooters."
Jim Hamner was an animal lover who had a "funny-looking poodle" and who raised golden pheasants in the backyard, says brother Earl, who now lives in California.
When Earl would come back to Virginia, Jim took him fishing and driving around. "He knew people all over the county," Earl marvels. On Earl's last visit home, his little brother took him to Hatton Ferry "and to a place I'd never seen before called Yogaville," says Earl. "Jim was a wonderful guide."
He also was a self-taught piano player frequently sought after to play at parties, according to his brother. "He played those old Baptist hymns," says Earl, "and he had a way with ricky-ticky tunes."
Hamner lived with his mother, Doris, until her death in 1990. "Jim would take in children in trouble who needed a refuge to overcome addiction or bad homes," says Earl. "He'd be tough on them. But he was there when they needed someone to care about them."
"Some people are generous with their money," says Isis Ringrose. "He was generous with his being."
Jim Hamner's absence from Schuyler has been hard on Ringrose, who lives up the road from the old Hamner homeplace. "It's very difficult to pass through there everyday, because he always had the light on welcoming you," she says.
She saw him a week ago. "I still called him Bad Boy, and he laughed," she recalls. "He tried very hard not to give in. He knew he wasn't going to be here long, and he wanted it to be quick."
To the last Hamner child to live in the town made famous by The Waltons, Ringrose offers this simple tribute: "You're talking about the soul of an era."
Siblings James "Jim-Bob" and Audrey "Erin" Hamner.
PHOTO COURTESY CAROLYN GRINNELL
James Edmund Hamner, June 21, 1936, to April 1, 2004.
FILE PHOTO BY JEN FARIELLO
David W. Harper played "Jim-Bob" on the Waltons.