Contributed by the Potters of Rockbrook
The Potters of Rockbrook and Opelika Empty Bowls recently lost a very special person. Rest in Peace, James Spain.
James Houston Spain – Oct. 11, 1956 ~ Jan. 26, 2021
James Houston Spain was a Renaissance man. He built world-class stereo systems in his spare time, including a turntable with a needle so sensitive, you could hear the crickets in Central Park, where the orchestra had played. When someone gave him two pipe organs, he disassembled the 100s of components and then spent weeks reconstructing them with his sons.
James’ individuality manifested at a young age. While attending Opelika High School, he dressed in a suit and carried a briefcase to class. The Cadillac he drove had a nonfunctioning cell phone prototype, which James built, complete with the ringer.
His giftedness showed up in many areas. In the 6th grade, he built a battery-operated radio, which terrified the teacher, who was sure it would electrocute someone. In his junior and senior years at Opelika High, he constructed motorized floats with a tank and rolling wheels, taking first prize two years in a row.
As a boy, James bagged groceries at Winn Dixie and later worked as a butcher, but it was his 46-year career as a machinist at Rexnord that stands out. Even without formal training, he steadily climbed the corporate ladder. He spent the last part of his career polishing components installed in helicopters, including Marine One.
Sherie and James almost weren’t a couple. They met when she was working at Wares’ Jewelers, and he wanted to buy a fountain pen. They talked (a lot), and eventually, Sherie asked James to accompany her to a dance. He annoyed her by declining the date but finally invited her to his house and served a candlelit dinner of bacon-wrapped chicken. It turned out that James couldn’t dance. Sherie forgave his gracelessness, and the two became soulmates.
Anyone, who spent time with James, knew he was a talker. There were few subjects about which James didn’t have an opinion. He was a voracious reader and perused at least three newspapers every day. His love of talking manifested itself when he accompanied Sherie to pottery conventions in North Carolina. While she went to workshops, James disappeared to Cigar Bars to smoke cigars, meet people and just talk.
James was a connoisseur of many of the finer things in life. His collections included Montblanc pens, Versace neckties and Christian Dior Cologne. But it wasn’t just about material goods for James; it was about the experiences. James listened to classical music for hours in his Man Room. He also enjoyed cooking gourmet meals and treated his Sunday School class to many a Shepherd’s Pie.
Another interest was the garden, he and Sherie shared. The greenhouse James built protected their plants in the winter, but he would spend hours carting the 100s of plants outside in the spring. Despite his severe dislike of bananas, he loved both banana trees and succulents. James and Sherie spent many happy hours in their backyard watching raccoons and possums and one stray cat battle over the cat food James left outside for that purpose.
James loved to drive. Once when he and Sherie were attending his son’s graduation from Naval Training School, he terrified her as he navigated Chicago traffic in her red Fiat, while changing gears, smoking his cigar and of course talking.
James was instrumental in helping Sherie with four Opelika Empty Bowls Fundraisers, which earned approximately $52,000 for the Food Bank of East Alabama. In addition to soliciting donations, he cooked up huge pots of soup in front of the Denson Center during the fundraisers. James was also a driving force in obtaining a new pug mill for the pottery center, and he and Sherie spent many weekends pugging clay.
Above all else, James worshipped his family. It was his joy to protect them and to share his many passions. He will be missed by those who had the pleasure of knowing him.
James was preceded in death by his parents James Houston Spain, Sr. and Marjorie Delbridge Spain of Opelika. He is survived by his wife Sherie Spain; his sister Mary Louise Spain Sanders (David) of Gardendale, his brothers John “Mark” Spain (Margaret) of Montgomery and Benjamin D. Spain (Cindy) of Opelika; sons, Jim Spain (Amy) of Opelika, Timothy Spain (Jennifer) of Covington GA, Jacob Spain (Grace) of Beulah; stepson Mason Beard (Kari) of Atlanta, GA; and grandchildren, Katie Spain, Felicity Spain, Hudson Spain, Ezra Spain, Charlotte Spain, Abby Beard, Brooke Beard and Will Beard.