Open Letter to my Friend:
Jim “Streaky” Willingham Oct.28, 1957 – April 10, 2008
“Streaky”, it was my deepest honor to be able to call you a friend. Your loss, is our loss, in a industry that got no respect for years, you helped change that! We want to thank you! You helped establish the IWCA, and through many years of dedication, and the tons e-mails you personally answered, educated us, your fellow window cleaners. You showed us a window can be cleaned under a few seconds. Even once, you held the record for the fastest window cleaner in the world, even though it was for a few seconds.
Never one to go any where without your Stetson Rancher, white or black hat, you always kept us laughing.
To your family, I offer my deepest condolences. Jim will always be part of our industry, and part of our hearts! He was a mentor, a friend, a brother…
I am and always will be your friend, your brother.
Jim “Streaky” Willingham was and is my friend. He was one of my biggest supporters since I started drawing the cartoons 8 years ago now. I feel so privileged that after seven years of e-mails, we got to meet in October of last year. It was and is my deepest honor that his infamous Stetson Rancher cowboy hat hangs proudly on my wall in tribute to him. Jim was more than a window cleaner and anyone will tell you, his name and legacy will be part of our industry forever.
Today’s cartoon was Jim’s inspiration. This was his concept and it is him in it. Over the years, Jim has shown up in the cartoons. Like the IWCA cartoon from February of this year. He called me just to talk… He was never one to mince words. He and I talked about a few things. Yet, I knew as he did, that there was a huge battle ahead. I drew the February cartoon for him.
I too had a battle, one Jim and I talked about it. He had great compassion for me and what I was dealing with, all the while he was in a fight for his life. He was one of the first people I talked to about me dealing with bipolar disorder. I remember talking about that when he drove the Window Wagon 200 miles from his demo just to meet me in person. He said after seven years of e-mails, he thought it was “time to say hello!”
We talked about the industry, and it was his idea to go to JRC to do the 2008 calendar.
When I told him about the mental illness and how I fear talking about it with other window cleaners, he laughed a little and said, “why do you think they are normal?” “Stuart, it’s not normal to love jumping over the side of a building to clean a window.” We both got a good laugh from that. He said, in his southern twang, ” look, that is like any other illness, you just have to take your meds! It’s like high blood pressure, you need your meds!”
Before he left, he said I need to give you something. He took off his hat and grabbed a marker off my desk and signed his hat and gave it to me. He said “this was one of his three favorite hats and wanted to give it to me.” In the next breath said, “Great, now I have to buy a new hat!” My four kids ran to give him a hug like their long lost grandpa and off he went.
If you’re wondering why I did not speak up in April or let the AWC use the hat for the cover, well, we all have battles and I was just fighting for my sanity, and for my life too… See the medication Jim told me I need to take, I did not have and I had a major acute episode in early March and was in the hospital. It has taken quite a while to get on my feet again with the right meds and help. I am doing what Jim told me to do “NEVER GIVE UP!” Every time, every day, I look up at that hat, I can see Jim “Streaky” Willingham, not as a window cleaner, no, I see him as a real and true friend, a brother! I hope his dream of having a window cleaning museum does not vanish! It deserves the proper respect and financial backing to make it a reality. So somewhere, sometime, every window cleaner can make their pilgrimage to see his legacy and the legacy he has left for our industry!
Please share your memories and comment below.