A good life — Nancy and James B. Clayton at a family gathering in December. James Clayton died May 30. The couple would have celebrated their 58th anniversary June 2. "We had a good life," Nancy Clayton said.
At 10:45 p.m. May 30, 2009, headquarters for The Revolution were relocated to heaven.
"Big Jim" Clayton died at age 82 in the way he would have wanted: at home, surrounded by members of his loving family, and entirely free of governmental interference.
A memorial service is planned at 11 a.m. Saturday, June 6, at First United Methodist Church of DeLand, 115 E. Howry Ave.
James Boyd Clayton's "big" nickname was fitting in many ways for the impeccably groomed lawyer. It was practical, to distinguish him from his younger and also locally famous nephew, James R. Clayton, the Circuit Court judge.
But the nickname also spoke to Clayton's unflagging commitment to big ideas: individual responsibility, excellence in education, honesty, integrity, devotion to God, and respect for the U.S. Constitution.
Clayton fondly referred to those few who shared his intensity as "members of The Revolution." Big Jim led their pursuit of elected officials and government bureaucrats, exposing wastefulness, elitism and misdeeds.
"Ow. Volusia County will miss that one," attorney and fellow revolutionary Tanner Andrews said, upon learning of Big Jim's death.
Heart damage that had dogged Clayton since he had rheumatic fever while serving in the Navy during World War II finally ended his life. With characteristic determination and self-discipline, he managed to live 33 years longer than his doctors said would be possible.
"We had a good life," his wife, Nancy, said. The two were close; she often accompanied him, at his request, when he spoke at city and county meetings.
The Claytons have three daughters who are among Big Jim's survivors, along with one sister, sons-in-law, nine grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
Jim and Nancy Clayton would have celebrated their 58th wedding anniversary June 2, and James B. would have celebrated his 83rd birthday July 8.
Friends and family told of a family man who could be as fierce in championing civil rights as he was compassionate in privately counseling alcoholics and the Lord's wayward sheep.
L.C. Zimmeron and James B. Clayton formed their friendship at a time when it wasn't all that common in West Volusia for a black tradesman and a prominent white attorney to become close.
But they did, to the point Zimmeron came to regard Clayton as a second father.
"We earned each other's trust, and it just climbed the ladder from there," Zimmeron said. "He didn't see the color; all he saw was the good in my heart."
Big Jim was the youngest of five children; they grew up poor in North Carolina. He joined the Navy at the age of 17.
Longtime friend and former law partner Craig James recalled a man who was formidable in the courtroom, relentless in holding public officials to account, and gentle among friends and family.
Clayton had graduated from Stetson University law school, and began the practice of law in the Conrad Building in Downtown DeLand with his brother, Ralph Clayton. The two often represented the disadvantaged.
Later, James B. Clayton started his own firm. James, just out of law school, partnered with him. They practiced together until Clayton retired in 1977.
"As tough as he was in the public, would you believe he never offered a critical word of anything I did ... no matter what mistake I made," James said. "He was a great guy. He was a good friend."
Clayton, James said, took the practice of law very seriously, and was vigorous in his defense of their criminal clients.
Time and again, Clayton would rail against the tendency of those in authority to take advantage of the powerless.
"Even when we were practicing law, he jumped on the judges for assigning themselves parking spaces," James said.
Son-in-law Kirk Bauer revealed yet another side of James B. Clayton: "He could do anything."
Bauer said Clayton was not only mechanically inclined, but also inclined to research the best way of doing any job he undertook, like helping Bauer install the wood floors in the house he and Martha Clayton Bauer built in 1992.
Bauer is also an attorney. His father-in-law was a curious, lifelong learner, he said.
"Until the last month, he was still interested in how certain cases were going."
Big Jim's namesake, Circuit Court Judge James R. Clayton, said growing up with Uncle Jim as an adviser gave him a healthy respect for the civil rights of all people, regardless of their skin color, income or social standing.
"I was a much better lawyer and I feel I'm a much better judge because of his wisdom and his willingness to help me," Judge Clayton said. "I am really going to miss him."
Like others, Little Jim also remembered the lighter side of James B. Clayton, the man who energetically directed a photographer to document the filthiness of DeLand High School restrooms, or hired videographers to record his confrontations with public officials. He once had his granddaughter (this was me...I'm going to have to dig out a picture of that one) dress as a clown to add punch to his public dressing-down of the Volusia County School Board.
Clayton served briefly on the School Board himself; he left for a reason that puzzled those who knew how hard he fought to keep government open and transparent. Clayton, however, objected to the requirement that School Board members disclose their personal finances, and refused to do so. He said it wouldn't be fair to his family.
It was, perhaps, evidence that the family he cherished and was so proud of was the one thing that could trump his lifelong devotion to civil matters.
"He left some good people behind — his family," friend Zimmeron said.