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In Memory Of James Armstrong

Our former partner has died unexpectedly and Jason Evans has some comments about his old friend

Cameron Crazies in action
One of James Armstrong’s happy places was in Cameron Indoor Stadium where he passed many happy afternoon and evenings as a Cameron Crazy and, later, as a passionate alum.
Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

We were truly sorry to learn that our old partner James Armstrong has died. The piece below is by Jason Evans, who helps coordinate the DBR Podcast. As he says here, being friends with James was complicated and not always easy. We’ll take some time to think about it all and may post some thoughts in the coming days. Or maybe not. Either way, Godspeed to James, our deepest sympathies and best wishes to his loved ones, and nice job by Jason.

It is not often one embarks on a task knowing you will fail at it. But, that is my fate as I sit down to write a few words about the passing of my longtime friend James Armstrong. I don’t know much, but I know I will be unable to capture and properly convey what it was like to be friends with this complex and compassionate person. I do know that the world is a lesser place today for his passing.

Let me start with the Duke stuff. James, as much as anyone, was responsible for building the online community that is the DBR Forums. Mike Hemmerich and Julian King were the founders of the DBR and were primarily responsible for the DBR editorial content in the early days. There was a growing appetite among DBR readers for a forum/bulletin board and James, who was a Duke grad and a software whiz, volunteered to write some code to make it all work. From that day forward, James was the steward of the DBR bulletin boards. I won’t get into all the details of the board system he designed, but the fact that he built something which allowed all of us to converse while not being bombarded by spammers and trolls was pretty revolutionary at the time. The nature of the system James built encouraged longer, more meaningful posts and – I think – steered the DBR toward being arguably the most thoughtful sports fan forum on the internet.

As a result of my involvement with the boards, I got on an email list James set up with some other Duke fans. Though the list was built around a shared passion for Duke, the conversation often delved off into personal details of our lives and the world we live in. And that is how I got to know James so well. It seems strange to say that someone I only met in person three times was a dear friend, but James was. On one occasion, I was traveling through San Francisco on business and James heard I would be in town. He insisted on coming to the airport to meet me and share a meal. He showed up with a bottle of Scotch in hand that we shared as we ate some wretched airport food. James had a great love of Scotch. There was one time he and I got into a disagreement in an email exchange and, when it was all done, he felt like he had been the one who had been wrong. To apologize, he sent me a bottle of Lagavulin, which has become my favorite Scotch. I will never sip it without thinking of James.

I’m not going to lie and tell you James Armstrong was a perfect person… whew, did he have his faults. In the past few hours as I have been speaking about him with our shared friends, the word “complicated” has come up again and again. James was someone who was extremely confident in his own opinions, often to the point of not accepting that anyone else could reasonably have a different perspective. That time he shipped me the Lagavulin was the only time, in 2+ decades of friendship, that he admitted to me that he was anything but 100% in the right in a discussion. But, he was also someone with a big heart who truly felt that “friendship” was a commitment. In the past few hours, I have heard numerous stories from others who spoke about how open and ready James was to put himself out to help others.

The past few years had been both difficult and exciting for James. He was one of the original dozen or some employees at a cloud storage company called Snowflake. In September of last year, Snowflake went public and… well… lets just say that James had a lot of stock options that suddenly afforded him the ability to lead a pretty carefree life. But, as his ship was coming in, his health was failing him. James had been overweight as long as I have known him and has been suffering from kidney failure for quite some time. He shared with me and others tales of long waits for dialysis treatment multiple times a week and the painful side effects he would suffer from a variety of kidney failure complications. Over the past several months James had put everything he had into getting onto a transplant list. He went all over the country to some of the leading transplant hospitals in the land trying to get approved for a new organ. Just one week ago he sent out an email with the wonderful news that the Mayo Clinic had approved him for a transplant. Only days later came word that the University of Nebraska had also put him on their transplant list. He was so excited and so were all his online friends. He finally had hope of a life not confined to proximity to a dialysis clinic! He would get the transplant and begin to travel again – James loved to travel to all corners of the globe for birdwatching and trying exotic foods. He had a girlfriend with a young daughter and I know James had hoped that when he was better she would agree to marry him. He loved her and especially loved playing chess with her daughter. He had a huge new house in San Francisco and he was eager to fill it with something he had not had to that point in his life… a family.

And that is why the news of his passing was such a gut punch. It came at perhaps the most hopeful moment in years for James. To get word that you are so close to fulfilling your dream and then have it taken away just days later… The only comfort I take is that James is finally free from the pain and suffering of his failing body, though it is not the freedom we all had hoped for him.

The world of Duke fans is poorer today. James loved the school, loved the sport, and loved all of us for our shared passion. He will be missed by those who knew him in real life but also by the large community that only knew him in a more virtual fashion. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I will raise a glass to my friend tonight… and I doubt my cheeks will be dry when I do.