James (Jim) E. Lilley, a community stalwart for almost 70 years, died April 3 at age 92.
Lilley moved to Roswell in 1953 with a young family to run the Sherwin-Williams paint store, which he did for 36 years. He and his wife Patricia (Pat) built a family of 10 children and immersed themselves in community activities. He became renowned for his work to make Roswell a better place. His first priority was his family, and close behind was the community.
It was said that he had nine lives, but actually it was only about six. He survived jumping as a paratrooper into combat in Korea, emergency surgery for an ulcer, a parachute accident which left him with only one eye and a smashed leg (he continued to jump afterward), backpacking solo through Europe in his 70s, a car crash that left him with a broken neck, and a bike crash that broke his femur. Nevertheless, he continued his daily runs (walks) until shortly before his death.
Sports were his passion. He was an intramural boxing champion at the University of Texas in 1949-50, and boxed in the US Army. When he came to Roswell, he started coaching Golden Gloves youth boxers and continued to do so (including NMMI boxers) for decades. He joined Sertoma, and headed the organization’s operation of local, regional and state Golden Gloves boxing tournaments from the 1950s until the 1970s. He was a member of the New Mexico State Athletic Commission, which governed professional boxing events. He taught Red Cross lifeguarding and lifesaving courses. He coached his sons in baseball and basketball, and refereed school basketball and football games. He took them hunting, fishing and camping. He took up running and triathlons in his 40s and continued until accidents debilitated him in his 80s. He was an avid participant in the Senior Olympics, running, cycling, swimming and throwing the discus. He participated with his children and grandchildren in Superkids triathlons.
Lilley was devoted to Roswell. He was active in (and onetime chair of) the Republican party and served on the City Council. He was a Parks and Recreation Commissioner. A devout Catholic, he was an active member of St. Peter’s parish, and then Assumption parish. He was president of Roswell Sertoma Club and a Grand Knight of Roswell Knights of Columbus. He taught English Second Language (ESL) as a volunteer for the Roswell Literacy Council and worked for Habitat for Humanity. He was a regular blood donor. He was instrumental in establishing the Boy’s Club. He headed the Chaves County Red Cross.
Lilley’s community activities were not limited to Roswell. He volunteered at an orphanage in Juarez, Mexico. He worked with Red Cross emergency response teams across the country, including after 9/11 in New York and hurricane relief. He travelled to Mexico and Central America on a humanitarian aid mission, visiting civil-war-torn areas.
After retiring from Sherwin-Williams, Lilley spent more than 20 years as a painting contractor (or volunteer) on commercial, residential, governmental and family projects. He loved doing the word jumble, cryptoquip and crossword puzzles daily at the kitchen counter. His Dagwood sandwiches--peanut butter, bologna, mayonnaise, pickle, banana and more--are legendary. He held court every day, even if no one was listening (or was even there). Lilley took no fashion tips from anyone. The family cringed when he dressed for church. As the years progressed, he donned more layers, topping it off with a beat-up ball cap.
Lilley received many awards. He was inducted into the New Mexico Boxing Hall of Fame. He has received the Sertoma Service to Youth Award, Boys Club Vision Award, Leadership Roswell Lifetime Achievement Award, State Knight (of Columbus) of the Year, several US Army awards for service in Japan and wartime Korea, Golden Gloves Lifetime Achievement Award, Sertoma Man of the Year Award, Roswell Literacy Council Service Award, Roswell Adult Center Lifelong Scholar Award, and United Way Community Volunteer Service Award.
Lilley and wife Pat, who became a well-known jeweler and community figure in her own right, married after they both graduated from the University of Texas in 1950. All 10 children graduated from Goddard High School, and eight graduated from New Mexico State University. All are successful in their chosen fields.
Lilley was born in 1928 in Atlanta, Georgia, to James Frank (Tex) and Marcella (Marti) Maher Lilley. He was preceded in death by his parents, sister Janet McCarthy and one great-granddaughter. He is survived by his wife Patricia Sommer Lilley and their children – Joe Mathis-Lilley (Sue) of Ft. Collins, CO; Mike (Diane) of Las Cruces, NM; Frank (Jolene) of Roswell; Chris (Jerra) of Las Cruces; Tom (Cathy) of Roswell; Ann Jaramillo (Mike) of Lubbock, TX; Dan (Lisa) of Las Cruces; Monica Reynolds (Chris) of Las Cruces; Jess (Bernadine) of Las Cruces, and Kay of Las Cruces. He is also survived by 26 grandchildren, 37 great grand-children, nine nieces and nephews and dozens of great nieces and nephews.
The Lilley family would like to thank the wonderful home caregivers, including Flavia, Maritza, China, Greta, Lillie, Maria and Brandi.
Rosary will be held at 5 pm Thursday, April 8, at Assumption Catholic Church. Funeral Mass will be held at 2 pm Friday, April 9, at Assumption, followed by burial at South Park Cemetery. If desired, donations in lieu of flowers may be made to the Roswell Literacy Council, Spring River Corridor Foundation or your favorite charity.
We will observe all COVID precautions, including space limitations.