“Forever Griz, forever wild, forever free.”
The world lost a force of nature when beloved former Ouray County and Montrose resident James “Jim” D. Wilson, 73, passed away near Salmon, Idaho on Jan. 29, 2017.
Jim was born in Oct. 18, 1943, to parents John and Margery Wilson. The second of four sons, he grew up alongside brothers Jeff, Jay and Jerry in Solon, Ohio, where he graduated from high school in 1961 as an All-American football player.
He went on to play football at Syracuse University, where he studied philosophy and Indian religions, and received a letter of intent to try out by the San Diego Chargers but turned the offer down because he found the business side of football to be so disheartening.
Jim would have celebrated 50 years of marriage in 2017, but it took two wonderful wives to get there. He met Kathy Flower when he was 22 and the two were married on Nov. 18, 1967, a marriage that lasted 25 years and bore two children, Jason and Sunne.
He married Denise Wilson on March 30, 1993 and was a loving second father to Denise’s daughters, Melinnia and Shabree, from the time they were 10 and 8, respectively.
Kathy and Denise and their respective families have become close friends over the years. They knew what was most important was family.
At the age of 58, Jim had the joy of becoming a grandfather for the first time. He went on to become the proud Papa Grizz to four grandchildren and three step-grandchildren.
Jim was a man of many passions, a deep thinker, a good listener, a close observer of the natural world and humankind alike. He loved bears, wild nature, Yellowstone National Park, river rafting, hiking, soaking in natural hot springs, reading books about life and the big picture, and spending time with his wife and his family, all of whom he adored.
Jim was adventurous, versatile and skilled. He had many types of employment over the course of his rich life, including driving the snowplow on Red Mountain Pass, working heavy equipment, mining and most recently, assisting Denise in her real estate business.
The bear was always Jim’s spirit animal. He used to tell his family that he wanted to die by getting eaten by a grizzly – then they could gather the bear poop and scatter it. Instead, his life was cut short by an icy turn on a country road in Idaho along the River of No Return, on his way home from helping a snowed-in friend. It was quick. It was his time.
Jim will be missed profoundly. Like a bear print left in the snow, he left his mark in this world and in the hearts of all that had the privilege of prowling by his side.
Jim is survived by his wife of 25 years Denise Wilson; son Jason Wilson and wife Cristi; daughter Sunne Steenburgen; stepdaughters Shabree Dukes and her partner Bobby, Melinnia Bibber and husband Derek; grandchildren Claire and Mari Wilson and Zeke and Cooper Steenburgen; step-grandchildren Tristan, Taylor and Trace Bibber; two brothers Jay and Jerry Wilson and their respective families; former spouse Kathy Flower; and numerous close friends. He is preceded in death by his parents.
In lieu of flowers, donations can be made “In Memory of James ‘Griz’ Wilson” to the Grizzly Discovery Center in West Yellowstone – a place that Griz admired, a place to educate future bear lovers, and to help protect the bears that he cherished so much.
Checks can be sent to: Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center, P.O. Box 996, West Yellowstone MT, 59758; or donate online at grizzlydiscoveryctr.org/join-support/donate/. (Select the option “Donate today”; click the box “This donation is for someone else”; and enter “In memory of James ‘Griz’ Wilson.”)
A celebration of the life of Jim Wilson will be held from 4-8 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 18 at the Ouray Elks Lodge 492, 421 Main Street in Ouray. Bring your memories, toasts and tributes and a dish to share if you would like.