The saddest thing you can say after another man dies is, “I wish I had known him better.” This is especially true if the two of you lived in the same building for 30 years, and you never bothered to have a real chat with him because of assumptions you made.
James Dale “Jim” Boyce moved to the Timbers, where I live still live, about two months before I did in 1979. We were both native Kansans. He was from Valley Falls, near Topeka. He was deeply religious, as I am, and graduated from Wichita State University, as did I.
After he died on Oct. 10, I learned he was born with his umbilical cord choking him, causing his cerebral palsy. My cord did the same. He was a strong advocate for others with disabilities, as I try to be.
Yet due to my dumb assumptions, I really never knew him. Then, after his death, someone posted his obituary in the commons at Timbers. It was about four lines and said his bachelor’s degree was in criminal justice.
What was that about? I had to know, and so I went in search of Boyce.
The reason his major puzzled me was that Boyce had virtually no intelligible speech. He relied on a letter and word board mounted on his power wheelchair. To communicate, he would point to letters or words until he got his message across. Often, it took 15 minutes for a person to get one sentence. But Boyce never gave up. Quitting was not in him.
His mother, Jean Boyce, who still lives in Valley Falls, summed up his approach to life this way: Nothing was impossible. So if he wanted you to understand him, you would understand him, no matter how long it took him. Nothing stopped him if he could help it.
He’d try or join anything and go anywhere if he thought he could help. In the 1990s, Boyce made two mission trips to Ecuador. Keep in mind that he was severely disabled, and Ecuador is not accessible for people like Boyce. But that’s why he went.
In Ecuador, Boyce helped people with disabilities get the help they needed if he could. Being an advocate for the disabled was his passion and goal in life.
His other main motive was his deep faith. This faith in Christ cannot be overstated. He learned it at home and tried to live it his entire life.
Boyce served on many boards and committees, even getting elected to WSU’s Student Government Association twice. But everything he did, he did for his God and others.
David Kemp, a vice president for the Cerebral Palsy Research Foundation, summed up Boyce this way: “He was one of the lights of the Timbers.”
Lord, I wish I had known him better. But more than that, I wish more of the public had known him before he died.
Most of the public does not know those who have led the disability-rights movement, people like Justin Dart Jr., Fred Fay, Steve Drake and Diane Coleman. These individuals have or had little time for ego or power trips. The movement is like that. Our leaders are humble but driven by a thirst for justice.
The Kansas movement lost such a leader.