Bird Watching

Jim Oakland | Chief of Port Townsend

Jim Oakland died just after midnight on August 15, 2022, at the age of 87.

Born in Miles City, Montana on May 4, 1935, Jim answered an early call to become a minister of the gospel. It wasn’t long before he realized the call came not from some deep inner revelation but from his family of origin (particularly on his mother’s side) – as well as from the Pentecostal culture he had been in. raised in rural Montana.

He met his wife, Helen Ritchie, at Bible College in Missouri. They married at 21 and had two children at 24. They tried the church option (Jim preaching, Helen on the organ) but Jim opened his ears to a more urgent, if somewhat distant call: to leave the church and make a “real” education. In late 1960, at the age of 25, he packed his wife and two small children into a Volkswagen Beetle and headed to Seattle – a big, remote and certainly pagan city in Montana terms.

After obtaining a bachelor’s degree (Seattle Pacific College) and a Ph.D. (University of Washington) in Psychology, Jim spent the next 35 years in private practice as a clinical psychologist. After a brief academic career at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California, he engaged full-time in his practice, while also training at the Los Angeles Psychoanalytic Institute. During these years, he built up a formidable personal library which continually fed his lively mind and his curiosity for life and the human spirit.

His next career began when he retired somewhere in his 60s. Jim has always had a love of the outdoors and a deep appreciation for the natural world. His curiosity turned to the natural sciences, and the copious volumes of psychology books gradually gave way to books on natural history, biology, geology, astronomy and neuroscience. He hiked extensively in the San Gabriel Mountains that buttressed their home in La Cañada, California, and in the Olympic Mountains of the Pacific Northwest, where Helen and Jim returned in 1985, having had enough of the smog and from the noise of Los Angeles. They found a beautiful cliffside home on Bainbridge Island and Jim made bird watching a major concern. When he wasn’t with his nose in a book sitting on the deck, his eye was glued to his telescope, following the movements of his fine-feathered friends.

In 2003, fully retired, Jim and Helen moved to Port Townsend, once again seeking a haven away from city life. Over the next ten years, Jim challenged his self-proclaimed identity as an introvert and mingled with various organizations in this bustling, artsy, left-leaning city. He volunteered as a docent at the Marine Science Center, supported the Jefferson Land Trust with the purchase of property in Cappy’s Trail that is now forever protected from development, was part of the initiative to formed the Science Reading Group and AHA (agnostics, humanists, and atheists) in the Quimper Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, helped start the Quimper Geology Group, participated in and supported Washington Native Plant Society events and, with his love classical music, was a strong supporter of the Olympic Music Festival and Port Townsend Chamber Music, and participated in several discussion groups and book readings around town.

From preacher to psychologist to naturalist, Jim’s last turn was to return to his origins as a simple solitary man. Susan Cain’s “Quiet” became her new mascot, the bible that would give her meaning and comfort in her old age. His last decade was spent in his two favorite chairs: one in the living room, the other on the deck of their house, swaddled in half a dozen thermal layers to protect him from the Pacific cold, quietly looking at his things favorites: birds and trees. .

Jim died early Monday morning, August 15, 2022, in the palliative care unit at Jefferson Hospital, Helen by his side. He had been treated at home for dementia and the ailments that had accompanied it for several years. Fulfilling his wishes, his body will be transformed into earth and returned to earth to nurture the trees he loved so much.

You can find out more about Jim’s life at