Jim Kilroy: In a Category All By Himself
Published on October 2nd, 2016
John B. (Jim) Kilroy, Sr., philanthropist, mentor, and pioneer in sailing and real estate, passed away at 94 years on September 29, 2016 (Eight Bells report). Terry Lalonde, who knew Jim from his days as crew, business associate, and friend, shares this commentary…
The world has lost a giant. If Horatio Alger needed a model for his stories of “rags to riches”, John B. Kilroy, erstwhile known as “Jim” and referred to as such herein, would surely have been the model. Alger’s theme was poor guy makes good. Jim would have fallen outside of this formula to the extent that he would have better been described as poor guy makes giant.
It is hard to imagine how one could evolve from the youngest of three children of a fatherless, abandoned, family in the frozen north of Ruby Alaska without it having a deep impact into one’s sole. Jim was driven to make up for any short comings of the father that had deserted the family, and in fact to demonstrate the extreme opposite of such weakness.
The indelible consequences of such forlorn beginnings infused him with competitiveness and a clear vision of how to make the best and most successful course towards one’s goals, always being able to refocus that vision as the circumstances dictated.
Jim excelled in all fields and endeavors to which he applied himself. However, he did not let this distort his self-concept. He recognized his limitations and abilities, and would bring in expertise as necessary, which demonstrated one of his more propitious traits, i.e. he was never one whose ego would prevent acknowledging that others can contribute and that no one has all the answers.
The sub-title of his book “Dare to Win” extends to “in business, in sailing, in life.” This says a great deal about Jim’s philosophy. Each facet mentioned was an award winning aspect of his life. Always though, family was in the forefront, as it should be.
The love of his children and their potential saw to it that he would do what he could to see they did as well as they could, and never be fatherless. Each was encouraged and helped to reach within themselves and attain their highest levels of satisfaction and rewards.
In business, he moved from being as a poor man with a family to a timely and fortunate developer after W.W.II. He eventually became a prodigious creator of major, not just projects, but areas of California including pioneering development of sophisticated facilities for the aerospace and high-tech industries. Orange County, a salient example of American prosperity, owes much to Jim’s early efforts, inventions and successes. His company evolved into a privately held, sophisticated and quality oriented, valuable entity.
A common thread that seemed to tie his life together was yacht racing. It was a necessity. I remember returning from a late meeting in Thousand Oaks with Jim where he explained that sailing was necessary as it allowed the exercising of other areas of the brain than those used in the day to day business world. It is very tough to get interruptive telephone calls out upon the sea.
Further, he felt that it was sometimes necessary to completely unplug, allowing the brain to recoup and freshen one’s creative side. Jim would set a date to make a certain race and almost never allow anything to interrupt his travel plans. It was that important.
From his early efforts and having attained the level of sophistication and economic wherewithal, Jim elected to compete in the sporting field of endeavor reserved for the traditionally wealthy gentry; that is yacht racing, an undertaking that in the largest classes is truly exorbitant and offers little in the way of common reward and acclaim, apart from in esoteric, select circles. Why yacht racing, perhaps to express in his confident manner a level of achievement that he too could compete in this immoderate field offering subjective and minimal rewards.
Few, if any have ever reached the successes and recondite gain that Jim did with his legendary Kialoas, a series of five yachts that undoubtedly hold the world title for “the most victorious.” He challenged and won against royalty, nabobs and capitalistic titans through skill and assuredness. These efforts required a team, which allowed him to benefit from a fortuitous trait; he was never one to shy from input from the many. In fact, he would listen to all and incorporate select portions of thoughts and concepts as though his own. This is a sign of a confident and worldly individual who never lost sight of the goals, group or individual.
An insight into Jim’s character and nature was that he greatly respected and had concern for his crew(s). He followed them with much interest and involvement throughout their respective lives. Believing, rightfully so, that the sailing experiences affected all to their benefit. As he put it “My thoughts … are thoughts of motivation, the impact upon the crew, making decisions, broadening the mental thresholds to accept and to meet new challenges and experiences, all of which make for a much larger life.”
Sailing is a somewhat unique sport whereby one can only attain control of a certain percentage of the variables. Mother Nature, which can be very unpredictable, can sway the best prepared teams. Jim reveled in this sort of challenge, in that he could prepare himself and his team to be the best available in all areas of the endeavor and preparedness, but the great unknown and uncontrollable volatility could always be asserted in untold ways. It, as he would say, keeps one humble, on his toes and honest, constantly being required to adapt to changing conditions.
Through a bona-fide interest in and desire to see the best for his country, that had allowed him such opportunities, Jim was active at the highest levels of politics. Not necessarily to bend them to his best interests, but to provide for what he truly believed the best evolution or course for our country, so as, to yield opportunities for others that would follow. As an example and amongst many other such events, Jim was instrumental in bringing us one of our most respected US presidents, Reagan.
Of course, with having attained a level of success that few others have attained, and being an altruist, Jim was active in charities and other forms of social contribution. For example, he supported youth sailing programs with the hope that others could gain the benefits similar to what he did from challenging the oceans and nature.
I saw Jim a few days before his passing. The light and sparkle was still in his eyes. Upon leaving I said we would get together again and tell some of the old sea stories. His eyes lit up as I left the room and he said, “I want to hear those sea stories.”
The accomplishments of the various Kialoa’s, if comprehensive, would appear like a telephone directory. Thus just a few examples: the KIALOA’s were champions in 1975, 1976, and 1977 Yachting World Ocean Racing Champion; winning the 1975 Sydney Hobart Race with a record time that stood for 21 years; St. Petersburg – Ft Lauderdale SORC Race; the Miami- Montego Bay, Jamaica Race; the Los Angeles – Honolulu Transpac Race, and the list goes on.
Although the definition of a giant involves super human size, abilities and accomplishments, Jim was very human, however, so far above the rest of most of us as to be in a category all by himself.