Update 2/11/2021: A memorial service for Jim will be Saturday, Feb. 12, at 11 a.m. at Lehman Auditorium. Masks are required. The service will be livestreamed at EMU’s Facebook Live page [you do not need to be a member of Facebook to watch.]
Jim Bishop, Eastern Mennonite University’s public information office for 40 years, died Sunday, Jan. 16, 2022, at home of complications from glioblastoma, an aggressive brain cancer.
He chronicled his journey in his “Bishop’s Mantle” column in the local newspaper, earning praise, as one reader noted, “for his humor, faith and joy.” A Daily News-Record Facebook post sharing the news of Jim’s passing and a link to his final column (“Reflections in My Rear View Mirror,” published Jan. 8) had 614 likes and 116 comments, many expressing how much Jim’s writing meant to them.
Bishop, from Doylestown, Pa., arrived in the Shenandoah Valley as a first-year student at then-Eastern Mennonite College. An English major, he honed early reporting and editing skills with The Weather Vane, also the first home of his “Bishop’s Mantle” column. With the exception of a few years after graduation working for Mennonite Board of Missions (now Mennonite Mission Network) in Elkhart, Indiana, he spent all of his professional career as the public face of EMU.
Hired in 1971 during the administration of President Myron Augsburger, Bishop also served under presidents Richard Detweiler, Joseph Lapp and Loren Swartzendruber. Known to just about every local reporter and editor, he livened newsrooms and studios on regular visits. Through these relationships and the stories he crafted and shared, Bishop helped to shape the public perception of the institution in the region and among Mennonite audiences.
He was praised by Swartzendruber as trustworthy, skilled and loyal – both aware of his role in documenting institutional history and the responsibility of telling it authentically to wide audiences.
“He knew what, when, and how to report for EMU and he knew and nurtured relationships with the people to tap who were important to telling and sharing the story when we needed it told,” said Lapp. “He capably reflected the changing ethos of EMU and chose the most important information, without camouflaging the ugly facts, even in the most difficult of situations.”
Bishop was widely known throughout the Valley, not only because of his prominent role at EMU and his penchant for face-to-face interaction, but also as a radio host, including a weekly “EMU Activities Report;” a Saturday morning program, “Focal Point;” “The Wax Museum,” an oldies request show on WHBG; The “Warped Records” show with Jim Britt on WSVA;, and “Friday Night Jukebox,” an all-50’s music show on WEMC, from 1990-2011.
In that same span of time, 1990-2011, he widened his reach with “Bishop’s Mantle.” After a post-retirement hiatus, the column returned, much to readers’ delight, in March 2020. He also wrote a monthly column, “Virginia Ham,” for Mennonite Weekly Review (now Anabaptist World), for some 20 years.
That was how many readers got to know Jim: he mixed life happenings (wife Anna Mast Bishop ’67 was an ever-present, indulgent and beloved companion) with observations both simple and profound, leavened with a sprinkling of faith, a song lyric or scriptural reference, and at least one groan-inducing pun, if not more.
Outside of his work, Bishop still practiced his craft. Camera in hand, he snapped photos; his notepad ever-ready, a friendly chat with a stranger who would soon become a friend was just part of a normal day. He was an unofficial publicist for Community Mennnonite Church where he was a member since 1973, for the annual Virginia Mennonite Relief Sale, and for the annual Groundhog Day gathering of Pennsylvanian transplants to the Valley.
In the public relations/communication office at EMU, Bishop was a work study supervisor and mentor to many, including Steve Shenk ’73 and Andrea Schrock Wenger ‘86. Both embarked on careers in the field, returning later as the office expanded to become colleagues and supervisors.
Shenk noted Bishop’s relational approach to his work, his routine of making the rounds and delivering material along with a greeting and a few jokes. “He regularly hand-delivered press releases, print ads, public service announcements, photos, etc., to the DNR, WHSV, and radio stations,” Shenk said. “It was a delivery format that helped keep EMU front-and-center.”
Shenk is not the only colleague who remembers Bishop’s old-fashioned perspectives on technology, even to the point of wanting his paycheck delivered through campus mail rather than deposited automatically (this tidbit is from Loren Swartzendruber).
That his family also fondly recalled this emerges in the following sentence in his obituary: Bishop, who often perceived himself as a fifties guy marooned in the 21st Century technological era, took an “old school” approach to life.
Keeping up with all of the technological changes – from paper copies, manual typewriters, and 35mm film to digital formats and from landlines to cell phones – was a challenge for both Bishop and Shenk. The coping tactic, while attempting to learn from those with more expertise, Shenk says, was plenty of moments of shared self-deprecating humor.
Wenger, who spent 10 years as director of the marketing and communications office, including as supervisor of Jim in his last five years before retirement, remembers her colleague’s “unique contributions to any space he occupied.”
Prized among her many learnings from working with him was the habit he made of carving out time for family and friends. “He regularly had lunch with each of his daughters, as well as Anna’s kindergarten class, delivered church CDs and papers to friends at VMRC, and wrote greeting cards – usually with a comic strip taped inside – to friends and colleagues,” she recalls. “Always sincere and committed, Jim left an impression.”
In collecting remembrances, Bishop’s energy and his constant smile are also mentioned. One friend called Bishop “bouncy,” another recalled a similar “zip and zest for life.” If asked to name a kinship to any character, Tigger – the effervescent tiger who was Winnie The Pooh’s good friend and who balanced out the always-glum Eeyore – would be a good match, said another.
Another description from his obituary helps to fill out Jim’s loves: He delighted in growing exotic indoor and outdoor plants, doting on grandchildren, generating ‘pundemoanium,’ line dancing with friends, cruising in his Mazda Miata convertible while enjoying a Kline’s black raspberry cone and the Bose radio blasting oldies but goodies.
In 2020, when Jim published his first installment of the new “Bishop’s Mantle” column, he chose as his subject how the decision to attend then-EMC had changed his life beyond his wildest imagination.
He shared a poem written in 1964 as he was just discerning his path. One line stands out: whatever I decide to make of my future, make it my business to pick a career that is Christ-centered, where I’ll be serving you and others and I’ll enjoy.
He was blessed, and blessed so many others, by that goal, those gifts, and that reward.
A Celebration of Life service will be held at a later date. Arrangements are being handled by Kyger Funeral Home. [Find the obituary here.] Flowers are welcomed. Memorial contributions may be given to Patchwork Pantry, Community Mennonite Church, 70 High Street, Harrisonburg, Va. 22801.
Condolences and memories of Jim are welcomed below to be shared with his family.
EMU plans to plant a small grove of trees outside Hartzler Library in memory of Jim. If you would like to help fund this memorial, please consider a gift by following this link. Personal messages may be sent to the family by selecting “in memory of” and inserting firstname.lastname@example.org in the email address field. Advancement will collate all responses and share them with the Bishop family when they are ready. Gifts that exceed the total cost of the memorial will be allocated toward the Student Tuition Relief Fund in support of the students Jim cared so much about.
A text-to-give option is available by texting 41444 with keyword JimBishop, the amount you wish to give, and your name(s), then follow the prompts.
Discussion on “In Memoriam: Jim Bishop, EMU’s public information officer for 40 years”
Writing this tribute for Jim is an honor and a privilege. Jim came into my life when I was editor of The Journals, four community weeklies that covered Rockingham, Shenandoah and Augusta counties. He popped into our Dayton office one day to introduce himself as the emissary of EMU and thus began a convivial friendship that continued until October 2021 with the publication of what would be his final news coverage of the Virginia Mennonite Relief Sale. By this time, I had moved into a role similar to Jim’s at EMU and we had traded many emailed words and photos with collegial compatibility.
On this particular occasion, lacking caption information for several photos of EMU folks at the sale, I sent him an email titled “Yanking your chain…” Within a few hours, he had obliged with all the necessary info, and signed off, sweetly, with this: “Anything else? Knock three times on the ceiling… twice on the pipes… if you need anything more…”
I will, Jim. And thank you.
What a lovely tribute, and way, to remember him! It is hard to imagine a world without Jim’s joyful energy.
Lauren, thanks for writing a beautiful tribute to an EMU icon. I was sorry to hear the news of Jim’s passing. Whenever we walk around the neighborhood and see Jim’s car parked in front of his house, it prompts a story about him and his impact at EMU. He is missed.
My relationship with Jim and Anna began in 1967 when he and I were employed by then Mennonite Board of Missions in Elkhart, Indiana. HIs sense of humor resonated with mine; we both shared a penchant for dwelling on “how things used to be.” Over the summer and fall months of 2021 I was happy to provide transportation for numerous trips from his Belmont Estate home to VMRC’s wellness center and return. On such occasions Jim would fill me in on how his illness was progressing, how he was coping with mention of many friends and wife, Anna, of course. Jim was the photographer at events associated with my marriage to Audrey Metz in 2012. Thanks, Jim, for your friendship: we’ll always remember “how things were” with Jim around. Ken Seitz
Hey Ken nice to read your comment about brother Jim. I was fortunate enough to be a fellow student with Jim in the mid 60’s, and then in 68 or so he showed up at MBM for a period of time. Always enjoyed his writing. Hope you are doin well
So sad to hear of Jim’s passing. He was an amazing man who always brought a smile. Rest in Peace Jim. Sending his family live and light.
Jim and I worked in adjacent offices at EMU Marketing and Communications from 2000 till 2005, so I have many fond memories of Jim from those days. His sense of humor is certainly top of the list. In fact, whenever I think of Jim, I get a smile on my face! Maybe it’s because one of his puns comes to mind. Or perhaps I remember one of his lively obsessions (like 50s music, Miatas, line dancing, or Krispy Cream Doughnuts with Coffee). Or maybe it is simply the memory of his general approach to life – jovial and fun-loving. I’m sure he will be missed by the many people whom he touched during his life.
What a beautiful tribute, Lauren! I know Jim’s three younger brothers — Bob, Eric, and Michael — better than I knew Jim. A marvelous sense of humor runs in the family, that’s for sure. So grateful for how Jim used his gifts in service to EMU’s mission over four decades.
I don’t think if I have ever laughed (or groaned) as hard with anyone else as much as I did when I worked Jim Bishop. The dad jokes and puns were in abundance. And we shared a love of the oldies and novelty songs, as well as the magic of radio. But Jim was the ultimate master of his writing craft and he had high standards of professionalism. His love of wife, Anna, and family and his devotion to the church and to EMU were ever present. He will be greatly missed.
Wonderfully written, Lauren. My path didn’t cross directly with Jim’s very often so though I sensed, particularly from his writings, that he had much to offer, many of the details you report are new to me–and delightful.
Thank you for helping honor Jim in this way. He was such a wonderful, positive source of life. His mentoring helped hone my writing as an undergrad. The way in which he and Anna welcomed me into his home on more than one occasion went above and beyond the call of duty. Such a loss.
Nearly 60 years ago, I first met Jim on the campus of then, EMC&S. I guess we “hit if off” ok, because the next year we decided to dorm together as sophomores on the first floor of the newly constructed Elmwood dorm. That year was memorable on many fronts for both of us. Jim put together a trio called the “Rejects”, whom with the late Warren Grasse, another classmate, and myself, performed with Jim’s ubiquitous ukulele at the then “famous” Bard’s Nest coffee house, where the Seminary now stands. More importantly, it was one of the first dates with Anna that provided for me a most seminal moment in our long lasting relationship.
My 1964 green Rambler convertible provided the transportation for a double date with Jim and his “beauty to behold” life-long relationship with Anna. He first saw her looking out on the campus from the Northlawn railing and said then and there, as we were headed for dinner one evening, “That’s the one for me”!
Then 7 years later when I returned to campus as the first full-time alumni director, we continued a 10 year professional relationship that eventually had Jim working with me as Media Relations Director in the basement of the old Ad Building, next to the budding but well credentialed, Nursing Dept. And publish news items he did. He always met the deadlines and was able to publish the auspicious news as well as some that we wished did not have to be communicated to the community. He became noted for his well written obituaries for faculty, as is evidenced by his own, written however prematurely for his abruptly shortened life.
Throughout the years, it was his Christmas letter, personal notes, CDs made especially for the times, including birthdays, and the perpetual invitation to come visit and stay with him and Anna, that made our relationship so special. He was a true friend, in many ways, having some traits of his namesake, if one knew his father well. The humor, the puns, the pictures, the music, the love of people and EMU. Our group picture of our 50th Class Reunion, held on the same weekend as the Centennial celebration, even sported a license plate on the front of his Miata, saying, “EMC”! To me, the person and the institution were nearly inseparable.
Anna and Jim, along with Sam & Vi Miller, visited us in Key West, just two years ago, this month, the very week of my recent wedding to Sherry Groff Read. It was a propitious moment that, unfortunately, they had to miss our actual day, but we celebrated anyway. And little did we know, that occasion would be the last in person contact that I would have with him. Jim will have a special place in my life and heart as his presence will live on in the stack of CDs he provided, the puns that wore off on me, and the memories that our family had of growing up together on the campus and environs of now EMU. May you RIP, my dear friend, classmate, colleague and comrade in the faith. Gone, but not forgotten!
Jim and Anna were beloved at Belmont Mennonite Church in Elkhart back in the day. Jim and Bob Baker were quite a pair – mutual respect for each other and played on each other’s comments & mischief. Love to you, Anna.
It’s hard to find the words to honor what a stellar person, dear friend and mentor Jim was. Jim was known as “Jimbo” in our family, a nickname that started back in the 70s when he and I were EMC’s entire communications department. I feel such sadness at his passing! Thank you for the lovely tribute, Lauren.
I am so terribly sorry for the heartbreaking loss. Although I do not know Jim personally but I know that he is greatly missed.
My deepest sympathy to his family ,friends and EMU community.
Hebron , Palestine
I worked with Jim in the 1980s as a student at EMC, with my work-study job in Communications. Looking back now, his ability to be a reporter/PR officer in both the secular and Christian fields is not to be overlooked and something I appreciate as I have spent most of my career in the secular realm. My second stint in sports at the Daily News-Record from late 2019 until September of 2021 meant I got to share some of the ink-stained pages with Jim – his stories were much better! Thanks Jim, for being a positive face in what can be a challenging profession.
As a member of the class 0f 1967, I have known Jim for many years and it is obvious that his memory is treasured by many folks over the many years. I still have his CD of songs from our class. Anna will know the kindness of the many friends and have their support at this time and future years
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