Remembrance of the Life of James Richard Funk CoL
In a letter dated Aug. 13, 1986, Co-membership Coordinator Mary Fran Lottes wrote to the Executive Committee, “I recommend that Jim Funk be accepted for co-membership. … Jim was educated by the Sisters of Loretto at St. Patrick School in El Paso. He is a co-worker and close friend of Leticia Lopez, who became a co-member last year. Jim said he had the idea of becoming a co-member before Leticia did. But he only began to act on it when he attended the Gathering in Estes Park in the summer of 1985.”
Jim’s application papers that accompanied Mary Fran’s recommendation gave a short account of his life and his involvement with Loretto; his colleague and good friend Leticia recently filled in the details.
Jim wrote, “ I was born and raised in El Paso. I was educated at St. Patrick’s by the Sisters of Loretto. Secondary education was received at Cathedral with the Christian Brothers where I was active in sports, music and journalism. I was editor of the school’s Latin newspaper. I attended Texas Western College, now the University of Texas at El Paso, and majored in physics.
“During the Korean conflict, I served in the U.S. Navy in intelligence operations. … Was very active in the labor movement and instrumental in breaking the Delano strike by closing the border in El Paso.”
Leticia said that Jim’s assignment as an intelligence officer in Japan during the Korean War was due to his prior experience in the communications field, which later became his career in data management. Before the war Jim’s first job was as a “pole man” for the phone company. During the war he was responsible for decoding/deciphering enemy communications. When he returned from service, Jim became a manager for the AT&T computer department in El Paso. His work for “Ma Bell” led to his membership in the Communication Workers of America and his lifelong championship of labor and union rights. Leticia said, “He was a labor man through and through, the youngest president of his labor union, and that’s how he got involved with the migrant workers, too. Jim worked at the phone company to break the color barrier with migrants. … He used to march with the laborers in Juarez on May 1 each year, and the FBI had him in their sights.”
In Jim’s brief life story, he wrote, “I was actively involved in the development and chartering of the ‘War on Poverty’ programs. During the 1960s and 1970s, I worked in programs addressing the needs of the poor and disadvantaged, the migrant workers and the hard-core unemployed.”
Leticia added: “Jim took a leave of absence from the phone company so he could manage one of the large, inclusive job training programs for the ‘War on Poverty.’ He worked directly with the Office of Economic Opportunity and was instrumental in getting the poverty programs set up in El Paso, [building on his] contacts with blacks and migrants in the labor movement. … I had started working with poverty programs, in charge of the vocational education part of the job training programs. Jim was on the board of the education programs for migrants with which I worked. From 1967 on, Jim and I worked together under the Department of Labor. … Our motto was ‘We need to follow the law and bend it, but not break it.’”
As the “War on Poverty” began to fade, Leticia and Jim created a consulting business. Their first client was a Mexican-American business asking them to continue the same programs in vocational education with disadvantaged migrant workers. Jim and Leticia also did consulting work for Loretto. Leticia describes it as unobtrusive work in the background with Loretto managers in El Paso and around the country, dealing with systems to manage buildings and maintenance, finance and data analysis. “We worked with the government study that led to formation of Community Groups.”
Jim’s 1986 account of himself concludes with a long paragraph of his skills and contributions, which reads in part, “I serve as Executive Assistant to the Mayor, City of El Paso. I have acquired significant executive management and consulting experience and have held responsible positions in private corporations, local and federal governments, health care institutions and human resource development agencies. … I have designed and conducted studies in basic concepts of data processing, alternative types of computer resources, major data processing applications and … procedures for … identifying future data processing needs.”
Jim ended his brief autobiography noting that his hobbies were photography and road rallying; “I am … a member of the Pan-American Sports Car Club of America.”
Again, Leticia provides more details: “Jim talked a lot about his experience at St. Patrick’s School. He had had truancy problems in public schools, so his parents put him at St. Pat’s. He loved the sisters, and this love was the basis for all his future engagements with Loretto. He was very active in creating the Legion of Mary and CCD programs for the Diocese of El Paso and was a member of the Third Order of St. Francis. Jim attended the seminary for some years, and afterward worked closely with the El Paso bishop assessing diocesan programs. Jim married; he and his wife, Shirley Jean, had five children, all of whom survive him — Laura Jean, Susan, Joseph, John Patrick and Denise and three grandchildren Mark, Pierce and Tristan.”
Mary Fran’s 1986 letter of recommendation reflected on Jim’s service to that date and stands in 2021 as a summary of his life: “Jim has continued to live out the ideals of the Loretto Community during his many years of service to the Church and society in El Paso. He has been very generous in his service to the Loretto Community.”
(Editor’s Note: Click here to view an obituary of James Funk on legacy.com. The obituary appeared Jan 26-27, 2021, in the El Paso Times.)