“I have fought a good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” 2 Timothy 4:7-8
Life is like an untraveled road with complex twists and turns; marked with joy and sorrow. James Ferrell’s travel on his life journey began eighty-four (84) years ago in Greenville, Al. On Monday, January 20, 1936, James was born and placed into the loving and protective arms of his parents, Johnnie Eskimo and Mattie Lou Shine Ferrell. “Bubba” as he was affectionately called by his family was the first of four (4) boys born to the couple. Bubba experienced the sorrow of life at the early age of seven (7) years old, when Johnnie Eskimo, Jr, the youngest boy, died of Sudden Death Syndrome at a week old. The death of baby Johnnie Eskimo impacted Bubba and made him a “My Brothers’ Keeper” advocate figuratively and literally the remainder of his life. Bubbas’ brother, Earl Travis grew up with him, but also preceded him in death.
James and his family relocated to Panama City, Florida when he was eight (8) years old. After the start of WWII, his father had landed a job at the Naval Base there. James was a product of the Bay County School System where he excelled in Band and Baseball. James was also an expert with a racket and ball whether he was playing regular or table tennis. He graduated high school in 1953, but often said sadly that most students dropped out after middle school to help support their families.
After graduating high school, James enrolled in Florida A & M College (FAMC). The Historically Black College University (HBCU) was not a university at the time. James proudly always ‘mentioned’ that he made FAMC’s Tennis Team as a freshman. He enlisted in the Navy before graduating from FAMC, but because of hard work and determination became a proud alumnus of Florida International University with a degree in History.
In 1956, James enlisted into the United States Navy. This was a surprisingly bold risk because James could not swim. He was soon forced to learn. James and the other ‘non-swimmers’ were pushed into a swimming pool and as he jokingly stated, had to “sink or swim”. After several weeks of these unconventional swim lessons, James passed basic training. He would later in his career become the first black or ‘negroid’ Purser on a ship. He was principally responsible for handling the pay for a significant number of the crew. He would later become a Communication Operator but would often jokily warn people “if I told you what I did then, I would have to shoot you”. Before retiring from the Navy in 1976, James was stationed in Turkey, Germany, Japan and throughout the United States. After his honorable discharge from the Navy, James immediately started working with the Department of Veterans Affairs. He assisted fellow veterans, with receiving earned and promised benefits. He was especially interested in making sure that they all received their educational benefits and would personally drive them to enroll in colleges throughout the South Florida area. After three (3) years with the Department of Veterans Affairs, James was employed with the Miami-Dade Park and Recreation Department and worked for over twenty (20) years as the Manager at the Caleb Center Auditorium, Black Point Marina and many other parks.
Over twenty (20) years ago, James ‘Bubba’ was diagnosed with Alzheimer disease. The illness met a formidable opponent, James ‘Bubba’ Ferrell from Greenville, Alabama. With God and his supportive family by his side, James’ “fought a good fight”. On Wednesday, June 17, 2020, James ‘Bubba’ “finished the race”. Earthly cares and sorrows have ceased for him. The Lord’s Angels led him to his eternal home and he is now rejoicing with his earthly parents, Johnnie Eskimo, Sr. and Mattie Lou; and his two brothers; Johnnie Eskimo, Jr. and Earl Travis. Celebrating his life and honoring his memory are his devoted wife, Priscilla Ivey Ferrell; three daughters, Melodi (Gert), Mitzi (Reginald) and Marci; nine grandchildren, Kylarra, Jared, Kenan, Matthew, Theodor, Simeon, Sabien, Madison and Tony; two step-sons, Bruce (Natalie) and Devin (Kimberly); brother, Charles and a host of nieces, nephews and other family members.