James Willis Downing
August 22, 1913 - February 13, 2018
James Willis Downing passed away peacefully at the age of 104 on February 13, 2018, surrounded by his family at his home in Colorado Springs. He was a gifted teacher, preacher and evangelist, serving with the Navigators, an international, interdenominational Christian ministry, for over 80 years. He served with the U.S. Navy for 24 years, retiring in 1956 from military service to then work for the Navigators at their Colorado Springs headquarters full time for 22 years as deputy to the president and financial vice-president. In semi-retirement, Jim moved to London to support Navigator missionaries in three continents and continued to speak for the rest of his life to groups throughout the United States.
Jim was born in rural northeastern Missouri in Oak Grove, the third of four children, in a farming community located near the Little Fabius River. Working during and after school in his parents' country store, he developed his passion for storytelling from the old men who sat around the store's pipe stove, recounting tall tales and arguing farm politics. Jim's lifelong outreach to the poor arose from his childhood during the Depression. Before he left home, he had not lived in a house that had electricity or indoor plumbing. He reminded his children to remember the poor and the hungry as result.
Jim met his beloved wife, Morena Mae Holmes, in Long Beach, California, at the home of the Navigators founder. Jim and Morena were later married at the Pali on July 11, 1941 on Oahu, later surviving the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Together, they raised during their 68 years of marriage, seven children, along with other spiritual children worldwide throughout their long years of Christian service.
During the last decade of his life, Jim was honored to tell his story of his surviving the attack on Pearl Harbor, when his ship, the U.S.S. West Virginia, burned and was sunk. Overwhelmed by flames, bullets and bombs, he expected to be ushered into God's presence then.
Jim tells how his fear melted away, replaced by the most overwhelming sense of peace he'd ever felt. On that historic "day of infamy" instead of staying clear of the smoke and flames, he risked his life by making his way back onto his sinking ship and fighting fires all day. Jim, at age 102, wrote about that day in his book with James Lund, The Other Side of Infamy, attesting to God's faithfulness to him on that day. As a result of his late authorship, Jim became a Guinness World Record Book holder for the world's oldest person to write a book. Jim authored during his Navigator career, a short devotional book, Mediation.
In the decade that followed Jim and Morena surviving the attack on Pearl Harbor, Jim rose through the ranks until he became the captain of the aviation support ship, the U.S.S. Patapsco. During the Korean War, the Patapsco, with Jim at the helm, braved hurricanes and icebergs. The U.S.S. Patapsco delivered supplies to military installations all around the world. The crew of the U.S.S. Patapsco also survived the radioactive fallout from the hydrogen bomb the U.S. government tested in 1954 above the Bikini Atoll islands while the U.S.S. Patapsco was trolling Pacific waters.
Three years later, Jim received orders to report to the Fleet Anti-Aircraft Training Center at Dam Neck near Virginia Beach, Virginia as an instructor and range officer in the Gunnery Department.
Jim will be remembered by his children and friends for his phenomenal recall of his history-making life events. He remembered seeing Babe Ruth hit home runs, an accidental encounter with an armed gangster on a back-country road, the advent of the fuel pump, leading sailors in formation to march down the streets of Washington D.C. to celebrate the end of World War II, as well as the invention of the personal computer of which he proudly became the family's earliest adapter.
Jim was a warrior for both his country, and the kingdom of God. Jim's forward-looking vision, his ambition, perseverance, passion and facility for travel, in addition to his commitment to sharing his faith, is the legacy he leaves with his family. Jim was humbled by the city of Colorado Springs' acknowledgment of this legacy of service in 2017 when the city re-named the Interstate 25 bridge over Colorado Highway 24 as the Lt. James "Jim" Downing Bridge.
Jim is preceded in death by his wife, Morena Mae Holmes Downing, his son James P. Downing. He is survived by his six children, Marobeth Downing Ruegg, Jonathan A. Downing, his wife, Cheryl J. Downing, Joseph D. Downing, Donald F. Downing, his wife, Debra D. Downing, David C. Downing, his wife, Crystal L. Downing and Joy Downing Riley, her husband Mark P. Riley, and his nine grandchildren, ten great-grandchildren, and nieces and nephews.
Donations can be made in lieu of flowers to the Future Generation Fund which Jim began with the Navigators to help launch and equip the next generation of Navigator missionaries and ministry leaders:
Future Generations Fund
P.O. Box 6079
Albert Lea, MN 56007 - 6679
Or donate online at jimdowning.net
Published by The Gazette from Feb. 16 to Feb. 18, 2018.