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Remembering Jim Wark

Below is a transcription from The Richmond Times-Dispatch remembering Jim dated February 7, 2020. Virginia Voice has created a memorial page dedicated to Jim’s memory here.

Richmond Times-Dispatch

James P. “Jim” Wark, CEO of Virginia Voice and a passionate musician whose enthusiasm and devotion to the Richmond community were his hallmarks, died Thursday night after being diagnosed with cancer a month ago. He was 60.

“Jim was joyous, just incredibly and sincerely kind,” said Lisa Sims, CEO of Venture Richmond, the organization behind the Richmond Folk Festival that Wark was involved with as a faithful volunteer from the beginning. “It’s like Jim’s personality; if you turned it into a physical stance it would be arms wide open. He loved everyone.”

David A. Howard, chairman of the Virginia Voice board of directors, said you wouldn’t necessarily have looked at Wark and thought “rock ‘n’ roll guy or CEO,” but he was both of those things and more.

“You would think he was just an ordinary joe, but he had so many skills and talents,” said Howard, senior commercial real estate executive, C&F Bank. “A good guy to drink a beer with and hang out and tell stories. No pretenses. Always smiling. Great sense of humor. He looked for the good in everyone. Just a good, genuine, sweet man.”

Wark arrived in 2016 as CEO at Virginia Voice, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to connect individuals with disabilities to information, culture and community using technology and the human voice, and has long provided an audio reading service – with volunteer reading newspapers and magazines and other periodicals for vision-impaired listeners with specially tuned radios.

“He totally turned the organization around financially,” said Howard, who was recruited to the board by Wark. “He did a fabulous job. I’d say he wasn’t your traditional CEO, but we all loved him.”

Wark came to Virginia Voice from Partnership for Families, where he served as director of marketing and communications. Before that, he taught third grade in Richmond public schools and also worked in local media for almost 20 years, including as an advertising sales manager for the Richmond Times-Dispatch and publisher of Style Weekly. A talented guitarist, he played in several bands over the years. His volunteer efforts included independent radio station WRIR-FM and the folk festival.

“He was the greatest cheerleader for the festival,” Sims said.

Wark served as chairman of the programming committee – “He always said, ‘OK, what’s our off-kilter, weird thing this year?” Sims recalled. ‘What is our throat-singer this year?’ He never wanted us to get in a rut” – and as chairman of the “bucket brigade” that fanned out across the event grounds seeking donations from festivalgoers.

“Oftentimes when people pass away, we think only of the good things,” Sims said. “I think that’s natural. But with Jim there were only good things. I never thought anything bad about him ever.”

Virginia Voice announced the news of Wark’s death on his Facebook page, saying “We are heartbroken. But we are also resolute that the work in which Jim believed so strongly will continue for the community.”

Friends weighed in on social media with admiration and appreciation.

Tim Timberlake, local broadcasting veteran and fellow folk festival volunteer, wrote on Facebook: There must be some big gig up there somewhere that needs our Jim Wark . . . that’s the only thing that could put some justification on the sudden and unimaginable loss we feel this morning. The loving, generous and gifted soul with the biggest of hearts, who touched so many in countless ways, is no longer among us.”

Jon Lohmann, director of the Virginia Folklife Program, wrote on Facebook: “To know Jim was to love him, plain and simple. I have been so inspired by the zest, passion and spirit in the way he lived his life, and the unwavering kindness that he always showed others.

His friend and fellow musician BJ Kocen wrote in a tribute on Style: To be a friend of Jim’s was to be loved unconditionally. Arguments wouldn’t tarnish the relationship, only strengthen them. It was more about enjoying the time together. You relished your time with him like a fantastic book you read slowly to savor it. . . . Wark set out to make a difference in this city, and he did.”

Survivors include his wife, Mary. There was no immediate information about funeral arrangements.