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Obituary: James DeForge, 1960-2024 

Colchester man’s outlaw spirit, gift for storytelling and infectious personality drew people to him

Published June 11, 2024 at 6:00 a.m. | Updated June 11, 2024 at 11:52 a.m.

click to enlarge James DeForge - COURTESY
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  • James DeForge

James DeForge was a man of many names: JD, Jim, Jimmy, Jim-Jim, Uncle Jim, Master James, Hawg, Hawg Man, the Gatekeeper of Broadlake Road (self-appointed), and the list goes on.

Born on July 30, 1960, Jim was the youngest child of Barbara and Norman DeForge. His childhood was rich with activities and adventure — from backyard hockey to boating on Lake Champlain, where summers were magical and endless.

Jim’s outlaw spirit and infectious personality were apparent at an early age. His second-grade teacher once declared, “Jim lives every day like it’s a birthday party.” That attitude continued into adulthood, where Jim’s razor-sharp wit, good looks, humor and gift for storytelling drew people to him. Many considered Jim to be their best friend. Recently, an old friend said, “Jim had a golden heart.”

That golden heart was tempered with electric blue eyes and a striking gaze that always held a glimmer of mischief. Jim often pushed the limits — especially in his younger days, making him a local legend. His edges softened over the years, and he found fulfillment in quieter times.

He loved fishing, from a charter boat on Lake Ontario to the ice on Mallett’s Bay. He was an excellent marksman (stationary targets preferred) and spent many deer seasons with his cousins at their family deer camp.

One of those rare people who are good at everything they do, Jim learned to drive a boat at age 7, could ride a horse bareback just for the hell of it, and could hop on his dirt bike and change gears while doing a wheelie. Despite his slim stature, he was a skilled hockey player completely at ease on the ice. He played a mean harmonica and famously accompanied the Phil Abair Band on “Mustang Sally” at his 50th birthday party.

These abilities translated into his career as a truck driver, earning Jim the nickname “the Natural” for his mastery of an 18-wheeler. He could back into the most difficult spaces with confidence. Once, on a big city run, he dismissed a doubtful dockhand and said, “I’m from Vermont, and I do what I want.” Jim only needed one attempt to park his trailer, a feat that left bystanders awestruck.

When his driving days were over, Jim spent much of his time at home on Colchester Point. You never had to call first when visiting Jim, just head down the basement hatchway stairs to “the Bench.” There, countless stories were shared, with Jim holding court. He loved being at the helm. Spending time with Jim was an escape from the pace of modern life. He never had a cellphone or a computer, watched “M.A.S.H.” and “Gunsmoke” on repeat, and rode in an airplane exactly once (one-way to Pittsburgh).

Jim was a man of nonnegotiable absolutes — dog: German shepherd; truck: Ford F-250, black, even years; beer: Budweiser; smokes: Marlboro Reds (he was a real-life Marlboro Man with the voice to match), followed by Black & Milds after he quit cigarettes; haircut: once a year on April 1, only given by his friend Rhonda; long johns: six months on, six months off.

He had a variety of signatures phrases. Someone do you a favor? “I appreciate the appreciation.” Not up to the job? “Sub it out.” Need some flexibility with your arrival time? “Put an ‘ish’ on it.” Plans with Jim? “No pressure.”

Jim was creative, a great gift giver, and far more sensitive and observant than he let on. He was generous, sometimes overly so, and held so many people in his heart, especially Sue Ellen Bennett, his partner of 25 years.

During Jim’s final days, friends and family gathered at his bedside, in the house, on the lawn and at the beach. The day before Jim passed, his dear friend Mark Abair stayed late into the night, holding vigil with a serenade of acoustic guitar and soft songs that drifted peacefully through the house.

Jim passed on June 2, 2024, as the sky over Lake Champlain burst into pink, purple, gold and yellow. He truly did ride off into the sunset. Mark Abair picked up his guitar and led a heartfelt rendition of Eric Clapton’s “Tears in Heaven.” It was the perfect send-off.

Jim is survived by his partner, Sue Ellen, (and family); sisters, Jacky DeForge and partner Linda, Judy Carpenter and husband Case, and Jo Ann DeForge; niece, Courtney Copp, and partner Matt; nephew, Chris Copp; numerous cousins, including GJ Critchlow, with whom he was especially close; and an extended family of friends. This sacred tribe — you know who you are — saw Jim through all phases of his life and supported him until the very end; a bond never to be broken.

Jim was predeceased by his parents, Norman and Barbara DeForge, and his German shepherds, Duchess, Bo, Hank, Judd and Coal.

Jim’s family thanks Noah Wollenburg, PA-C and Chelsea Chalfant, RN and her colleagues at the University of Vermont Medical Center Home Health & Hospice. Together, they helped Jim realize his wish to die at home. Donations in Jim’s name can be made to UVM Home Health & Hospice or to the charity of one’s choosing.

Fly high, Jim. You are finally free. We love you fiercely and leave you with the words of poet Charles Bukowski: “You are marvelous / The gods wait to delight in you.”

In lieu of formal services, a gathering in Jim’s honor will be held on his birthday, Tuesday, July 30, 2024, 1 to 3 p.m., at the Elks Lodge, 924 North Ave., Burlington.

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