Jim Balentine, RIP

Jim Balentine, a former state capitol reporter who became a lawyer and lmore recently wrote a book about surviving a heart transplant and a months-long coma (among other things), died Friday, at age 66. Funeral services were scheduled Sunday afternoon.
Balentine could be gruff, profane and combative. But if you knew him — and i did for 30 years or so — those occasionally-displayed qualities and his sometimes grizzled appearance were far surpassed by a genuinely gentle nature, a monumental sense of humor and a keen, quick intelligence that he could focus on any task at hand.
The Commercial Appeal obit is below.


Former Memphis Press-Scimitar reporter and UPI correspondent Jim Balentine, who wrote a book about surviving nine heart attacks and a heart transplant, died Friday.
Friends remembered the 66-year-old Mr. Balentine as a “crusty” reporter who loved politics, the law and, in his early years, alcohol.
“I guess if you called central casting and asked for a reporter he’s the one they would send,” said former Press-Scimitar colleague Susan Adler Thorp, now a media consultant.
Mr. Balentine wrote a “My Words” column for The Commercial Appeal last year, recalling the nine heart attacks that led to a transplant and left him in a coma for almost two months before he fought his way back.
Mr. Balentine had grown up on a farm in Friendship, Tenn., before coming to Memphis to drive a bread truck. He saved for three years to attend college, where he majored in journalism and political science and became editor of the old Tiger Rag student newspaper at what was then Memphis State.
His first full-time job was as a correspondent in Memphis for UPI. He then moved to Birmingham with UPI before returning to Memphis. When the Press-Scimitar closed in 1983, Mr. Balentine enrolled in law school and practiced criminal law here for five years, his wife said.
Mr. Balentine wrote that he pursued his wife, Lyn, by sending her “a different love poem every day for six months.”
“He was a romantic at heart,” she said. And he fought to stay alive after his first heart attack in 1992. “Nobody fought harder to be alive and to have a life than Jim did.”
But on Friday morning at Baptist Memorial Hospital, she said, “He looked at us and said he was tired. Then, late in the afternoon, about 5:20, he said, ‘I see the tunnel, and it’s dark. I think I’m ready to see God’s grace.'”
Another of his former newspaper colleagues, Barney DuBois, said, “Most of what I remember about Balentine could not be put into family print! I’d say that he was the real thing — a gritty, get-it-done type who always delivered no matter what the circumstance. He was a reporter with a capital R, one of the best I ever worked with.”
His wife said Mr. Balentine regularly attended Alcoholics Anonymous meetings even though he quit drinking decades ago. “He wanted to help others,” she said.
Mr. Balentine also leaves a son, Jim Balentine of Hernando; a daughter, Jolinne Balentine-Downey of Martin, Tenn.; two sisters, Pearl Smith of Shelby County and Marti Sullivan of Los Angeles.
Services for Mr. Balentine, who will be cremated, will be at 3 p.m. Sunday at Memphis Funeral Home Poplar.

4 thoughts on “Jim Balentine, RIP

  1. barbara sanders

    Jim and my husband were friends. He asked me today to find a copy of his book: Defying the Bitter Old Hag of Death. Anyone have a copy?

  2. Paul Fischer

    Jim was an amazing guy. I am an ex-reporter, as well, and knew him very well, when I lived in Memphis for a couple of decades. He and I stayed in touch, and would talk regularly—that long-running dialogue would continnue on his cell phone, as he would spend months in-hospital…except for the long periods when he was getting his transplanted heart “adjusted,” or some other of the stream of medical troubles he endured, pre and post-transplant, would occur.
    Jim remarried about two years ago, and had a daughter who was a United Methodist Minister in Martin, TN, I believe.

  3. Paul Fischer

    Jim was an amazing guy. I am an ex-reporter, as well, and knew him very well, when I lived in Memphis for a couple of decades. He and I stayed in touch, and would talk regularly—that long-running dialogue would continnue on his cell phone, as he would spend months in-hospital…except for the long periods when he was getting his transplanted heart “adjusted,” or some other of the stream of medical troubles he endured, pre and post-transplant, would occur.
    Jim remarried about two years ago, and had a daughter who was a United Methodist Minister in Martin, TN, I believe.

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