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R. I. P. Jim Carrig

James E. Carrig, 1946 – 2007

“Dance beneath the diamond sky, with one hand waving free.”

I went to grad school at Rutgers with Jim Carrig; we were both getting Ph. D. s in math. He was Irish, from the Bronx, dark-haired, a solidly built guy, something of a wild man.


[Jim in his gorilla suit, in our house in Geneseo, NY, 1974.]

He’d tell me great stories about things he’d done with his running buddies in NYC. Like the time they rented full-body gorilla suits, took acid, and went to as many bars on Third Avenue as they could. Seeing them enter, one of the bartenders said, “These guys drink for free.”

Jim was a huge Rolling Stones fan. I’ve been playing my old vinyl copies of Let it Bleed and Sticky Fingers this week, dancing and remembering him. One time he and his then-wife Fran managed to get four tickets to see the Stones in an afternoon concert at Madison Square Garden. They took my wife and me along, a great show, a big time. I remember Jagger on stage saying, “Did y’all get off school today? Ah did.” When we got home, lightning had struck the tree next to our house.


[Fran and Jim in our back yard in Geneseo, NY, 1974.]

It’s because of the Stones connection that I put up that YouTube video of “Gimme Shelter,” a song Jim really loved. We liked the way the beginning is like surf music. Keith lugging a long-board across the sand? The video is maybe kind of wimpy, maybe Jim would have mocked it, but he would have enjoyed that too, and, after all, the video is from 1969, which was right around when we became good friends.

Jim and Fran would give great Halloween parties, and if you didn’t show up in a costume, Jim wouldn’t let you in the door.

He had a thoughtful intellectual side as well—we used to love discussing the nature of time. We thought we were getting older then, pushing thirty years of age as we were. He was cultured, with wonderful taste, a bon vivant.

I wish I could see him one more time.

That quote at the top of this note is from Dylan’s Mr. Tambourine Man, of course. I once heard Jim use this phrase to describe those high point moments when you’re tuned in on life. Dancing to “Sister Morphine” with my wife and Jim’s ghost on my porch the day of his funeral, I had my hand up to the starry sky, waving free, hoping to touch him.

16 Responses to “R. I. P. Jim Carrig”

  1. Nick Says:

    He was a good friend. I knew him from the time I was in diapers till the last. He never told me the gorilla stories, but he showed me the pictures and the suit. He means a lot to a lot of people, I’m glad you’ve put this is up.

  2. Griff Crump Says:

    When he was about 50, Jim found an opportunity to start learning Irish. Our teacher was a Donegal native who called us by the Irish forms of our names, so Jim has always been Seamus to us. We quickly found that one night a week wasn’t enough, so a group of us began meeting in between classes at a local pub and have been doing so twice a week for about the last 11 years. Seamus took a couple of years off, at one point, pouring on the work hours to ensure that his son, Eamonn, would get his college education. After teaching mathematics at George Mason University, Seamus had doffed the academic gown for the entreprenurial life of an independent contractor, usually subcontracting on defense contracts.

    As a mathematician, Seamus was always in pursuit of certainty, so his attempts to penetrate the multiple myteries of Irish were often accompanied by his protest that “No, no, you don’t understand my question,” sometimes followed by, “Oh, well. That’s ok . . .” and a smile — as if to say, “I can’t expect you to grasp it.” In philosophical and political discussions, however, his sword wasn’t sheathed until the engagement was over. But here, too, the twinkle in his eye was his trademark. His other trademark was his unvarying attire — t-shirt, shorts and sandles, even in winter.

    Seamus had loved his Greek, and quotes from the classics frequently came from his lips. He was generous, his word could be relied upon, and he was great fun.

    Recently, a young actress asked for our help in coaching her in some Irish phrases required for her starring role in A Most Notorious Woman, a play at the Wooly Mammoth Theater in Washington. Seamus and I attended a performance, a 1-hour-plus affair, in which she acquitted herself with aplomb. We agreed that her future should be bright. She and her producer were kind enough to mention us in the program’s credits. So, if you should see the name of Rachel Manteuffel in lights sometime in the future, know that her career was touched by Seamus.

    One night recently, he was telling us about his upcoming annual camping trip to Lake George. Then, days later, the news that left us all stunned.

    Maybe it was Seamus’ insistence upon certainty that accounted for his unclamorous classification of himself as an atheist. With his wonderful good humor, I think Seamus wouldn’t mind my saying that I hope he has been pleasantly surprised.

  3. Rudy Says:

    That’s terrific, Griff, thanks so much. Your words really bring Jim / Seamus back to life for me.

  4. Emily Says:

    Jim touched my soul. The words above brought tears to my eyes and I had to say something to honor the great Jim Carrig. I have had the honor of knowing Jim and even though I’ve only had a few experiences with him, I can wholeheartedly say, I am a better person because of it. He taught me through example how to smile shamelessly and to how to live life to the fullest – and with “certainty,” or truth, as stated above. I enjoyed talking with Jim at his kitchen table about my life pursuits and got great feedback just by being with him. He had a spirit that transcended the material world, and a character unique in all the world.

    One summer I was lucky enough to be part of the “expedition” lead by Jim to Lake George. There he reminded us that we only need the sky above to be happy, to respect Mother Nature for all her beauty, and that everyone that comes to the Island (Turtle Island in my case) had to cook a meal to contribute to the clan. I will never forget Jim.

    I love Jim, and from what I know of Jim, I believe he’s got a keg of Bass beer up stationed between himself and the stage where Jimi, Otis Redding, Jerry and many more are set to play in a few hours. His spirit will forever be with me, and I sincerely thank you, Jim for touching my life in such a tremendous way.

    I love you Cosmo and I love you Jim! RIP Jim.

  5. Anonymous Says:

    hi what part of Ireland was Jim from?

  6. Eleanor Says:

    I don’t think he was from Ireland.

  7. coilin owens Says:

    I knew Seamus off and on over the years since we both began teaching at George Mason–he in Mathematics, I in English. He showed up at a couple of our Irish language weekends, and later in a regularly meeting group to pursue our interest in the language. I found that Seamus had a love of the language, its turns of phrase, its idioms, and the nuances of grammar that revealed something that I think he felt he inherited. He would delight in recognizing a particular expression and come back, the next week, having evidently thought about it a lot. His relish had a poet’s touch. We will miss him, his kindness, his thoughtfulness, his gentleness, and his modesty about his considerable intelligence. Go ndeana Dia trocaire ar a anam!

  8. "Moon" Says:

    I met Jim (never knew him as ‘Seamus’, so I cannot refer to him in that way) in 1978 or 79. His wife, Mary, was a colleague of my wife. We were often at Jim and Mary’s house for dinner and drinks, and they at ours. When I turned 30, Mary Lou threw a surprise party for me, and Jim elected to carry in the cake to the stirring tune of the Beatles’ “Birthday”. He had a beer in one hand, the two-part sheet cake, fully lit with candles, in the other, and danced about, the cake shifting precariously, threatening to split in two and drop to the ground. Fortunately, this did not happen. Neither did he spill a drop of his beer, and it remains a fond memory for me.

    The other thing I remember is this: I could never understand how someone could get a doctorate in math. I have my degrees in Theology, and always felt that I didn’t need to know much more than how to count to three. I would ALWAYS pick on Jim, asking him “So, Jim, what’s new in math? Discover any new numbers lately? Perhaps something that goes between 7 and 8?”

    When Mary called us with the news of Jim’s inexplicable death, we recalled these (and other) moments. She mentioned that my comments always made Jim go into a slow burn, but in a good way.

    Although he and Mary were divorced, it seemed to me that they managed to put aside their differences when it came to Eamon (or, as I called him, Hey, Man!).

    Thanks for the memories.
    Moon

  9. Eleanor Says:

    I’m curious . . . was Anonymous thinking of another Jim Carrig who was from County Kerry?

  10. Joe Craig Says:

    I worked with Jim in the early 1980’s and “sort of” kept up with him over the years. But, I probably haven’t seen him for 10 years. I was just Googling around and discovered this. I’m greatly saddened.

    If anyone can provide details, please let me know at jncraig at gmail.com.

  11. Dick Durisen Says:

    Lake George
    (For Jim Carrig and Jim White)

    Compromised,
    the dock slumps wearily,
    Waiting for some improbable arrival.
    Initials carved
    with youthful exuberance
    Soften into deep, dark rot.

    Who would have thought
    that the hurtful message
    Would arrive in whispers
    through the ether?
    Who would have thought
    that the torrent of sorrow
    Would burst upon me,
    alone, on a glacier,
    At the top of the world?

    I came to this island
    seeking the solace of mutual history
    And found plants and people
    still growing askew.
    Now I listen to the lapping water
    at an empty campsite,
    Wanting some last fond memories
    that will never disembark.

    October 2010

  12. Rudy Says:

    Thanks, Dick, that’s a beautiful poem. I still think of Jim, too. A wise shade, intermittently palpable, his smile in the shadows.

  13. Rudy Says:

    Here’s a poem in memory of Jim, written by Frank Rossini, and passed on to me by Jim’s son Eamon. Thanks, Frank.

    a blues
    for Bugs

    Billy leans
    into mornings rising
    heat
    his voice fills
    with smoke
    & dried roses
    love a song all the blues
    from the sky the sea
    love he says taught me
    to believe the joy flesh
    brings to flesh
    is a trick breath
    cant braid
    to breath make
    a rope to hold
    me to this spinning planet
    Joe says the Lord never
    gives us more
    than we can handle
    I think even Jesus begged
    his father for a break

    (stanza break)
    love maybe it teaches us to play
    the blues bend
    an ear to the heart hear
    god crying
    for one more
    day of heartache one more
    night
    without sleep

  14. Mitchell Stier Says:

    I was a student of Jim’s in the early ’80s; I’ve just come upon this site having come across someone by the name of Carrig, which spurred me to google Jim. I’m so sad to learn of his untimely passing.

    Jim was one of those few professors who was able to translate his love and enthusiasm for his subject into concrete terms that the better students, at least, could latch onto. The unusual thing about Jim, in those days, was that he tried to teach us how to communicate as mathematicians–while many of our other professors were good communicators, and could write effective proofs, he was the only one who took the time to teach that skill as a skill, and I always appreciated that. The lawyer I later became really appreciated it as well.

    I’ve thought quite a bit about Jim and his teaching lately, as I have a son who’s something of a math prodigy, and who has teachers who are focusing him on writing in the way Jim did with us. I gather it’s not unusual today, but Jim was definitely ahead of his time 30 years ago.

  15. Andrew Phelan Says:

    Bugs (aka Jim) and I (Piggy) went to Regis High together, but bonded during St Patrick’s Day revelry a few years later, a day rich in quantity (me) and quality of conversation (Bugs). In the early 70’s, went to Fran and Bugs’ place in Jersey for Christmas party. Arrived early and we pre-partied with drugs du jour. As the time for the party neared, Bugs became discomforted. Though unlikely, I recall we sat under his Christmas tree and he spoke of existential angst, metallic tastes, sweats, bodily discomforts, and ennui. After much thought, I surmised: “Bugs, you need to take a crap.” He went to the bathroom, gave birth to the universe, and came back ready to host the party. A good time was had by all.

    Miss you, man.

  16. William Pries Says:

    Rudy – I was a Regis ’63 classmate of Jim’s and was part of the original Lake George group and all of the Regian returns to the lake through our days at Fordham. We styled ourselves The Magnificent Seven but the group grew in size. Of course, I was devastated when I heard of Jim’s sudden death, and its proximity to an annual Carrig Family return to Lake George is just another one of God’s mysteries.

    I recently came across some photos of the ’63 trip (it had to be ’63 since Don Gannon left for the Jesuit seminary shortly thereafter). Her’es one of them, with Jim on the left and Don Gannon in center and Frank Rossini on the right.


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