Jack James, a prominent figure in the construction business in Jackson County for four decades, has died at age 87. His wife, Carol, said that James, who died Thursday, had been in ill health for several years.

Jack James, a prominent figure in the construction business in Jackson County for four decades, has died at age 87. His wife, Carol, said that James, who died Thursday, had been in ill health for several years.

James built schools, cold storage units for orchards and industrial buildings across the region, and he served on the board of Rogue Valley Medical Center and civic organizations such as Mercy Flights.

"He did a good job for everybody, or he wouldn't have been out there so long," said Wayne Reavis of Jacksonville, a friend for 40 years. "He was an honest man and easy to deal with. He could see both sides of a story."

"He created situations for people to succeed," said Sam James, one of two James nephews who took over their uncle's construction business in the early 1980s. "He gave people an opportunity to proceed beyond their expectations."

Sam James said his uncle had a reputation for honesty and fulfilling his commitments.

"If he said he would do something he did it," Sam James said. "There didn't need to be a signature or a contract."

Born in Roundup, Mont., in 1920, Jack James moved to Medford with his family in 1927. He attended Medford schools and graduated from Medford Senior High School. He started working in construction at age 16, taking a job with Marshall Bessonette, a local builder.

He served in the Army Corps of Engineers during World War II, and returned to work for Bessonette and his partner, Walter Graff, after the war.

Graff and James started their own company in 1956, which became Jack K. James Construction a decade later when Graff retired.

The construction business was simpler in those days, said his wife. "They'd draw plans up on a napkin and shake hands and that was a contract."

"He was a fair boss, but he was tough," she said. "If you didn't give him an honest day's work, you were gone."

Sam James said his uncle had a way of imparting wisdom that sometimes sounded like he was smarting off, but his words were always "right on the money, short and sparing, and to the point."

The nephew recalled cutting some oak trees for firewood for his uncle years ago at the old Hollywood Orchard and asking him how much cleanup he should do.

"All he said was, 'What would you do if it was your own place?' " Sam James recalled.

In 1999, the Oregon chapter of the Associated General Contractors of America honored him for lifetime achievement with its SIR Award for skill, integrity and responsibility.

Sam James said his uncle tended to be modest about his success. "He just didn't wave his own flag. He didn't toot his own horn. That wasn't how he was put together."

When Sam James and his brother, Bill, took over the company, they discovered the high standard their uncle had set.

"We were scored against his performance," Sam James said, "and it wasn't easy."

The brothers have since sold the business, but it still operates under the name of S&B James.

Arrangements for a memorial service will be announced within the next few days.

Reach reporter Bill Kettler at 776-4492 or e-mail bkettler@mailtribune.com.