At 76, most people would find it challenging to walk four miles to exercise at the YMCA or weed a steep hillside garden, but Fairhaven resident, Jim Rich, does both while actively promoting his husband’s artwork and impersonating Fairhaven Founder, Dirty Dan Harris, at annual events.
With his long hair and casual beard, the character suits him both in appearance and in the diversity of experiences that forged who he is.
“I just keep moving and doing,” Rich says. “I forget how old I am.”
His past has been as colorful as his present. One of five kids in a Pennsylvania family, he was a high school junior when he left home to stay with his Monseigneur Uncle and attend seminaries in Kansas City, Missouri, and then Denver.
“Then one Easter vacation I just dropped out and moved to El Segundo, California,” Rich says. “I didn’t know exactly why I wanted out of the seminary, but didn’t feel like it was a good fit any longer.”
I just keep moving and doing. I forget how old I am.
A couple of colleges later, he graduated with degrees in Philosophy and Math, a minor in English and a teaching credential, finding work teaching upper grade math at Paseo High School in Kansas City.
“I made $4,800 per year, so I also worked as a stocker at Safeway,” he laughs. “Then I heard about the shortage of teachers in California and spent the next 13 years teaching high school math and ‘Continuation School’ for problem kids in Antelope Valley (about an hour north of Los Angeles). I also established an ACLU and served as its first president.”
He taught for a few years, sold everything and got a job in Venezuela teaching in the local International School.
“I traveled all around the country on my motorcycle,” he said. “Then I taught in Brazil. They don’t speak Spanish there, so I learned Portuguese. I gave the speech at senior graduation in both English and Portuguese.
I had ridden my motorcycle many times up the coast to the Northwest and was in love with the area. I still am. The people, the scenery – everything.
“The heat and humidity there taught me the meaning of the word ‘mañana’ (tomorrow). You need your nap. You don’t move fast,” Rich explains. “I needed to leave.”
At age 40 he went back to college, studying computers at UC Santa Cruz. While performing a wedding ceremony in Antelope Valley he met future husband Richard Bulman.
Through the university, Rich became active in local politics.
“We successfully supported equal housing, women’s health, children’s issues,” he says. “I was in my 40’s working with a lot of young people. I came out as a gay person to this group.”
Rich and Bulman used their savings to travel in Europe for six months before returning to Santa Cruz. Rich got a school district job with computers, and hadn’t been back long before a head-hunter called with a job with Alumax that quadrupled his salary and lead to relocation to Atlanta. People with computer skills were in high demand.
“Being a gay couple in corporate America in Atlanta was a challenge at times,” Rich says. “But the upper level management of the company was very supportive of us. We attended company events together with no problem. After three years, we moved to Intalco in Bellingham. It was 1992, and I was 51 years old.
I have been lucky to have lead such a life, and to have the love of my life to share it with.
“I had ridden my motorcycle many times up the coast to the Northwest and was in love with the area. I still am. The people, the scenery – everything. I knew this was where I would retire.”
He “retired” at 62, but Rich hasn’t slowed down much. Their art-filled Fairhaven home and garden has been featured in several local publications. He served as president and board member of the Whatcom Artist Studio Tour, doing computer work for the event. He manages Bulman’s art career and took on the role of Dirty Dan, leading tours and appearing at events with the Fairhaven Ladies of the Evening Society. The two opened a successful “Air BNB” in their basement bedroom and bath that is nearly continuously booked.
The couple married in White Rock, B.C., because it was legal in Canada and “we could look at the U.S. while being married.” They then married in Connecticut when it became legal and again in their backyard. Each year they celebrate their marriage with a garden party for friends.
Rich attributes staying young to his many friendships, gardening and his new exercise routine at the YMCA.
“I have been lucky to have lead such a life,” he says, “and to have the love of my life to share it with.”