James P. Sullivan died suddenly of heart failure on Thursday, December 11, 2003. As an active member of the Bar Association of Montgomery County, he served on the Executive Committee and was a member of the Bar Foundation Board of Directors. He graduated from the University of Baltimore Law School in 1972 and remained active in the affairs of the institution. Jim treasured every moment of life, comfortable from courtroom to kitchen and graced us with a lifetime of his wry wit.
Jim is survived by his wife, Sara Donohue; and their triplets, Luke, Molly and Rory, age 3. He is also survived by his daughter, Ashley Sullivan and his son, James Patrick Sullivan; his granddaughter, Haley; and several brothers and a sister.
Memorial contributions may be made to the Sullivan Triplets Fund, c/o Richard Lyon, Esq., 6259 Executive Blvd., Rockville, MD 20852.
Following is the eulogy presented by Judge Nelson W. Rupp, Jr. at the funeral mass on December 15, 2003.
God, grant us the Serenity to accept the things we cannot change, The Courage to Change the things we can and the Wisdom to know the difference.
That prayer, the Serenity Prayer, used by so many of us to provide comfort and strength in times such as these, seems inadequate today. As a friend of mine pointed out the other day when discussing this tragedy, the appropriate prayer may be to ask God for the Strength, instead of the Serenity to accept Jim’s death.
Because his death is so unacceptable. And so, our ability to try to accept that which cannot be changed and is so unacceptable can only be achieved through God’s strength.
Jim has always been so alive. When I think of Jim, I think of his sunny disposition, his easy smile, his laugh, his friendly way. I’ve known Jim for almost 30 years–but it’s been in the last 14 years that we became close. There have been difficult times and there have been times of incredible joy. But through it all, Jim had always been able to maintain his even keel, his perspective, his balance.
Just last summer, Jim’s mother passed away. A huge loss to Jim and his family. And Jim gave a beautiful, touching eulogy for her. At her funeral, as at Sara and Jim’s wedding 5 years ago, the family strength of the Sullivans came forth as it is here again today.
This fabric provided the backbone for Jim’s character. We don’t just get here. We are the product of those who have gone before us; our fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters. Jim was a great man; a caring, loving man; a terrific lawyer; a beautiful friend, a wonderful father and husband.
He gave so much of himself and asked nothing in return. The sudden and premature nature of this tragedy makes it even more difficult to accept. Jim had so much to live for–his life was fully engaged–and now he is gone with so much left unsaid and undone. His three young children–Luke, Rory and Molly–will not have the joy of experiencing his love. The shared joy of parenthood that Sara would have experienced with Jim is gone. His two older children, Patrick and Ashley and his granddaughter, Haley, will not be able to see their relationship come full circle.
It’s times like these that challenge our faith. In preparation for my comments, I was re-reading the comments I made while performing the wedding ceremony five years ago for Jim and Sara. I am struck by their application here today.
“Each of us has in our own life, our own history, happy occasions and painful events or difficulties that we carry with us. It is part of life. At times, those events–both good and bad–seem to make no sense. It helps to believe that our life has a design and it’s similar to the back of a tapestry that makes no rhyme or reason when looking at it as it’s being created. We must have faith that eventually that tapestry will be turned over and God will let us see His design and His will for our life.”
It was the happiest of occasions when I uttered those words. And it is now the saddest of occasions. We must have faith that there is a purpose to this tragedy. As hard as it is to have that faith, I know this without any doubt. I am grateful to God for having blessed me with the opportunity to have had Jim Sullivan as my friend. He has been an inspiration to me. Always positive, upbeat and smiling. Full of energy and life. He made us all smile and feel better about ourselves. He had such an infectious spirit of joy surrounding him. All of our lives have been richer because Jimmy passed through.
Within the past few years, there have been several people who have been taken from this earth that I consider giants among us. Every morning I pray for their souls and ask God to help me remember their inspiration. Those men are:my father-in-law, William D. Foote, Scott Smith, my former colleague, Jim Chapin and now, my good friend, Jim Sullivan.
As Brother Alexis Norton reminds us repeatedly, silent love and silent gratitude aren’t worth anything. If you love someone, tell them. Let them know it. While their ears can hear it and their heart can sing to it. Let this sudden death of our friend be a lesson to each of us that life is too short; there are no guarantees, and don’t be caught as we have been, unable to say to Jim what we would have liked to have said if we had had the time.
I know that Heaven is a much better place with Jimmy up there laughing and smiling. We are a poorer place without him. But let’s use Jim as our role model to get through this difficult time. What would Jimmy do? He would have remained upbeat. He would have remained positive. Let’s honor his memory by doing the same.