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A visit with Dr. Shames, all-around cool guy

For six months, Jackson County Medical Director — and master of cool under pressure — Dr. Jim Shames has appeared on KDRV news to talk about the COVID-19 debacle.

News anchor Brian Morton usually ends the segment by asking if there’s anything he wants to tell the public about staying safe. The good doctor, without a hint of eye-roll, calmly reiterates the advice he’s advocated all along. Wash your hands, stay physically distant, wear a mask.

It was his chill demeanor that prompted me to contact him. I mean, the man is not shaking his fist at people who don’t get it, he’s not inciting fear or panic, and he stands with the facts from a position of concern for our community.

“It’s not my job to judge others,” Shames assured me. “My job is really to try and bring them in and to get them to understand what I’m saying, to trust that I’m leveling with them. I’m always trying to figure out how to message something in a way that people who may be reluctant or resistant are going to hear.”

The last thing I wanted was to hit him with more virus talk. I wondered how he was holding up. Was he sad? Overwhelmed into a state of blasé dialog? Resigned glumly to endless repetition? None of the above proved true. In fact, Dr. Shames is a happy, well-rounded individual who enjoys his job.

Given the opportunity to break from the weighty responsibilities of his position, just who is Jim Shames when he’s at home? The fact that he accepted my invitation to find out said a lot.

Originally from New York, Dr. Shames attended medical school in Philadelphia, then ventured west and fell in love with the surroundings.

“I just landed in Southern Oregon and ended up upending all of my life plans and stuck around. With other community members, we started a clinic — a free clinic where no one was turned away for inability to pay.”

That clinic became the Siskiyou Community Health Center, where Dr. Shames served as the medical director. He’s been involved with public health now for about 18 years. His original career plan was in psychiatry until he discovered the reward of helping people with physical health issues.

He and his wife, Heidi Parker, have called Ashland home for 30 years, having moved there from Josephine County. Heidi is also active in the community, having served on the Ashland school board for eight years. She also enjoys helping homeless people in their area find housing. I remarked that they seemed like the sort of people we could use more of.

“That’s what life’s all about, don’t you think?” he replied.

I asked about hobbies, or if he found time for those.

“I have a big garden. I spent many years living on a collective farm. And back when I started to practice medicine, I was part doctor, part farmer. I’m a photographer, and I haven’t done any photography lately.”

Shames was once the winner of the Oregon Outdoors Wild Bird Photography Contest. “I like the challenge of photographing birds in flight. They’re so beautiful, and it takes a lot of technical skill and experience to do it. Grandchildren and birds are my go-to photo subjects. I like to bike. I like to canoe and to be out in nature. I have four children. They’re very important in my life, as are our four grandchildren. Kids have always been the focal point of my life, me and my wife’s. We’re a pretty close family. You add all those things together, and my time is pretty full.”

I thanked him for sharing time from a busy schedule to satisfy the curiosity of a small-town columnist.

“It’s been a nice break from all the meetings I’ve had. Thank you.”

We can be grateful to have someone like Dr. Shames at the helm.

Peggy Dover is a freelance writer. Reach her at pcdover@hotmail.com.