Jim Row, beloved father, husband, grandfather and friend, died in Austin on July 13th surrounded by family and friends. Jim was a joy to everyone he knew, even only for a moment. The irresistible twinkle in his eye lured many a friend into his singular, adventure-filled world. That same twinkle let you know there was some scheme he was hatching, but never to harm, only to create unique and fantastic works of art or bring new friends together. Jim was a passionate, creative soul whose work included original songs, TV pilots, poems, novels, film scripts, commercials, and more. He made a successful career as an independent television and film producer with the support of dozens of friends in the Detroit and Austin advertising industries and up on a hill in Hollywood. His heart was bigger than his beloved Texas, and his rich soothing voice and friendly smile let you know he hailed from there as he called out to turn you into a friend. He made buddies everywhere he went thanks to his friendly, approachable demeanor and infectious boy-like charm.
Jim was born in Dallas, TX on February 9th, 1948 to Ethel and Franklin Row. As a small boy he was inflicted with polio, which damaged the tissue in his left arm and right leg. He wore a leg brace until he was about seven years old, and got a pretty tough time from classmates for it. But he kept that big grin plastered on his face and went right on about his way, never letting anyone stop him from being the beautiful, caring boy and later man that he was. He went to high school in Lubbock and garnered some infamy with friends Tommy Wiley and John Scott. One favorite legend has him climbing the town water town to urinate from atop it (a feat never before or since attempted!). When the time came to go to college, Jim attempted a semester of seminary school at Texas Christian University. Though he had a voice that could tame the heathens and a depth to his gaze that could conjure celestial deities from every corner of the universe, other factors made for a complicated fit with the clergy, and Jim decided to move on. He moved to Austin to attend film school at the University of Texas. Upon graduating he took a position with a local television station. A friend there kept mentioning a cutie named Judy but Jim never crossed her path, until one day an elevator opened and there she was, his destiny before him in the form of a beautiful petite Texan blonde. Within a few weeks they knew this was it, moved in together, and were married six months later. Jim loved to tell the story of the first time he saw Judy’s daughter Tracey, who was 3 when they met. She hugged her mother’s leg and hid behind her skirt, her soft blonde curls and a single eye peeking out. He knew right away that she was an angel, and she never let him down.
Another Angel, Rachel, followed shortly after the family moved to Lubbock for Jim’s work. The four then moved to Dallas when Jim took a job at a production company, and yet another daughter Laurel graced the Row family with her goofy precious smile. Soon after, Jim founded his own production company Spindletop with two partners. Spindletop was a great success throughout the 80s and became one of the biggest production companies in Texas. Jim made many lifelong connections through Spindletop, and even caught a glimpse of Stevie Ray Vaughn as he came to pick up his model girlfriend from a shoot one day. In 1984 Jim’s fourth child was born on a full moon in a hospital filled to the brim with screaming new babies. When asked by his sister-in-law Carolyn what the sex of the baby was, Jim replied, “Well it’s a girl, of course.” He held that girl in his arms because there were no free beds, and later when it was time to go, took her home and bathed her in the sink.
The family enjoyed very happy times after they built a house on 6 acres in Southlake, TX and watched the girls grow up, swimming, horseback riding, dancing, doing gymnastics, and all of the things girls do, including crashing a go-kart into the fence. One of their favorite pass times of this era was sailing their 27-ft Hunter sailboat around Lake Grapevine, especially when everyone would go below but toddler Rebecca, perched dutifully behind the wheel, giving a fright and a chuckle to boats passing by. Later, after his girls were mostly grown and his career had shifted to independent commercial production, the Pacific Ocean called him until he could resist the siren song no more, and Jim moved his family to Orange County, CA. Later, he moved to Los Angeles and renovated a small bungalow in the Hollywood Hills, forming some of the greatest friendships of his life in the process.
The Row family fell upon unspeakably hard times with the tragic death of Rachel, but what didn’t kill them brought them together with an even stronger bond, and the blessing of a uniquely fortified family emerged from the ashes. After over ten years in southern California, with Jim’s daughters Laurel and Tracey grown with children of their own, he moved home to Austin once again, to settle into his role as Grandpa Jim/Macha/old man. His grandchildren were the absolute lights of his lives, especially his grandson (finally!) Asa, who as Jim insisted to everyone, “doesn’t look like anybody but his grandpa.” Macha and Asa were inseparable as they rode the tractor mower around Jim and Judy’s 2 acres in southwest Austin, cavorted around the country in the pickup truck, and generally got up to all kinds of mischief. These were some of the happiest times in Jim’s life, and it’s how he spent his final days before leaving earth for the big fishing hole in the sky.
Jim was a wonderful, loving father to his daughters and wife and supported them in all of their endeavors with a pillar of deep, never-faltering love and devotion. Everyone who knew Jim knew he would go to the ends of the earth for his family, and he told them in his way every day. Jim was an extremely devoted son, who honored his parents and cared deeply for his mother, keeping near-daily communication with her despite distance. And as for friends, truer more loyal ones have never been known, and the outpouring of love and affection from across the nation in the last week has been testament to that. Words cannot describe how deeply Jim Row will be missed.
Jim is preceded in death by his father Franklin Row and daughter Rachel Row. He is survived by his mother Ethel Row, sister Carolann Garrity, his wife of 40 years Judy G. Row, his daughters Tracey Kirk, Laurel Gressett, and Rebecca Row, sons-in-law Gregory Gressett, Christopher Kirk and Bobby Schwalbe, and his grandchildren Mia, Olivia, Violet, and Asa.