James Edward Starnes, 61, ad man and Wistar Institute driver

Posted: January 17, 2014

DRIVING a famous Army general gave James Edward Starnes a chance to make a new friend.

As a driver for the Wistar Institute in University City, James was the person who greeted visitors to the world-renowned research institution at the airport or train station.

One day it was Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf Jr., the late commander of forces in the Gulf War and a Vietnam War combat hero.

"Did he chat with the general?" his wife, the former Catherine Baylor, was asked.

"Oh, yes," she said. "That was the kind of man he was, very friendly and personable."

James was called the "Wistar Ambassador" because of his role as the first face of the famous cancer-research facility that visitors saw.

And it was a most friendly and cordial face, beaming with intelligence, welcome and good cheer.

James Starnes, an Air Force veteran of the Vietnam War and a dedicated churchman who formerly worked for a Philadelphia advertising agency, died Friday of cancer. He was 61 and lived in Germantown.

"He was loving and very kind to people," his wife said. "He was a man of his word. If he told you he was going to do something, he did it."

"James was one of the best friends I ever had," said longtime friend Marilyn Kai Jewett, owner of Progressive Images Marketing Communications. "He wasn't just my friend, he was my true brother."

Marilyn met James when both worked for the Ron Lucas Advertising Agency in 1981.

"Whenever I asked him for his help, he was always there for me and never turned me down," she said. "James was a special person."

James was born in Philadelphia. He was raised on 21st Street in North Philadelphia by his mother, Pearl, and stepfather, Ernest Garner.

He graduated from Thomas Edison High School and entered the Air Force. He served as a medic in Thailand.

After his discharge in 1976, he enrolled at La Salle University, but later switched to the Charles Morris Price School of Advertising.

From the Lucas agency, James joined the Wistar Institute in October 1985. In addition to driving visitors, he also transported transplant organs and other precious cargo. He retired in 2012.

He married Catherine Baylor on July 16, 1977.

James, called "Big Daddy" by friends, coached the Wistar Rats softball team to winning seasons.

He and his wife enjoyed traveling and took an anniversary trip every July to destinations in the U.S. Last November, he and Cathy traveled to the Cayman Islands for a special treat.

James was a devoted member of Resurrection Baptist Church.

Besides his wife, he is survived by a son, Jay; two brothers, Kelvin and Vincent Williams; and a granddaughter. He was predeceased by a daughter, Crystal, and a sister, Marie Bowman.

Services: Friends may gather at 10 a.m. Saturday at the Morse Funeral Home, 4000 Haverford Ave.

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