James T. Wilson, S.E.C.

FAMILY HISTORY: Perhaps the best way to begin a biography is to share something of the family history behind the man. Jim Wilson’s mother was Katherine Isabel. She was born in Chillicothe, Ohio, in 1909. Jim says that she was a tough lady and she lived to a ripe old age. Jim’s father had been in WWII. He came back unscathed from the war. However, a strange thing happened when Jim was only one year old: his father just disappeared. Mr. Wilson had been working as a truck driver and took a load out one day and just never came back. Nobody knows what happened. He may have been hi-jacked or worse, but all the family was sure of was that he never came back.

Jim’s mother worked for the telephone company in Indianapolis. With Jim’s father absent, his mother was his primary care giver and raised Jim. He was an only child. When Jim was five years old the family moved to Mobile, Alabama. There his mother continued to work for the phone company, eventually working for Ma Bell for 45 years. Mrs. Wilson was proud of the fact that she had perfect attendance for 43 years. Jim says that she did not believe in doctors but lived a very healthy life in spite of them.

One story Jim shares about his mother that is quite telling is the time she had a limb fall off a tree in her yard. She was 86 at the time. She got on a city bus and went to Sears. There she bought a 2.5 hp chainsaw and then took it back with her on the bus. Jim’s son called him in a panic and told Jim to come home quick because grandma was out in the yard chopping a tree with a chainsaw! She believed that she could stand up to anything and overcome it. She also had a very positive attitude in life which successfully transferred to Jim. Mrs. Wilson never remarried and died in 2002; she was 93 years old.

Jim was born in Indianapolis, Indiana on 29th Street and Central Avenue. Since the family had moved to Alabama when he was just a babe he mostly grew up in Mobile.

Jim received his education at the Russell School for five years in Mobile then Jr. High School in 7th grade. An interesting fact about Jim was that he lived on his own from the time he turned fifteen in Mobile and completed high school while living on his own. In high school he got involved in Public Address and debating. Jim likes to say about his school years that he was always in the senior class. This was true due to the fact that they kept adding grades at Davidson High School in Mobile, ALA.

His Civitan Club mentor was a major influence in Jim’s life. His guidance helped keep Jim out of trouble and taught him a positive work ethic. Jim was then on the debate team through high school and college.

Jim had several scholarships but he qualified for the Coast Guard Academy. He says that it didn’t work out well. He had a record running for running out of demerits the quickest until 1983. By September he had enough demerits to be expelled from the school but they offered to allow him to resign to avoid a black mark on his record.

So Jim left New London, Connecticut, and rode a Greyhound bus for 48 hours back to Mobile, Alabama, where he moved in with a high school friend. Within a matter of days, he ran into his high school English teacher, Pauline Lambright, on his way home from registering with the draft board. She asked him, “What are you going to do now?” Jim thought that he might be a milkman at the dairy where he had worked part-time during high school. She said; “Oh no, you are not!” They walked across the street to the bank where she got a roll of dimes and started making calls to college deans and presidents, some of whom she had taught in grade school.

A few days later, she put him on the bus to Clark Memorial College in Newton, Mississippi, with $50.00 she gave him and a job in the cafeteria. He had a good experience and earned an Associate’s degree. There he got back into debate and headed the debate team. This led him to many opportunities in which he participated in competitive Public Address.

Jim also served in the youth legislature in Mississippi where he met the professor in charge of the debate team at the University of Mississippi. That resulted in a scholarship, two more years of college level competition debating. He graduated with a Bachelor’s degree with majors in Public Address and Psychology with minors in Physics and Chemistry. He then started taking grad school classes in Urban Planning.

In a funny way his education was guided by who he was dating at the time. He liked a girl whose father was the Dean of the Urban School, which is how he ended up in that curriculum. He applied for a full assistantship at Michigan State University and was accepted into a new program, the Masters Degree in Social Communications.

Here is where things took a turn. The Peace Corps recruiting team was on campus and there was one young lady who was with the recruiting team. To make a long story short he applied to the Peace Corps. He was on the karate team at the University of Mississippi and had applied to go to Korea because he wanted to get a black belt in Korea.

He got half his training at Blue Knob state park in Western Pennsylvania and the other half at Bothell, Washington, and then he went off to Korea. There he learned to speak Korean. About the 10th or 11th month he went to a village in the mountains where he got typhoid and was sick for 4-5 weeks.

Once he was in line to get an inoculation for bubonic plague. He said to the doctor, “Boy I know this is going to hurt but at least I won’t get the plague.” The doctor said, “I can’t guarantee that you won’t get the plague but if you do you probably won’t die from it.”

The villagers had been told that Jim was a doctor. Not too long after arriving in his village, a man from a neighboring village showed up early one morning saying that a woman needed help. When he got to the village, she was having a baby. He had a couple of lectures and saw a training film, but he was no doctor! Now the baby is coming – the kid pops out at only 2 pounds 7 ounces (preemie). He thought the villagers would be upset with him but instead they were all excited and happy, singing etc. and offered rice beer (a local drink) to celebrate. The women who had the baby got cleaned up and started to help fix dinner! Needless to say he was impressed. He delivered many babies after that and learned they are all small but he learned to catch! Fortunately, none had complications, which was amazing considering the sanitary conditions of rural Korea.

He ran the VD clinic. Every week the girls came in for an inoculation and he would give them a shot. He also ran the county health clinic. The country had a campaign to vaccinate children for whooping cough. They sent out the vaccines but the people heard that there was free medicine and they started to line up. His friend told him to be there early. He went in three hours early and there were already three hundred mothers and children in line for about 100 available vaccinations that had been delivered.

By nine o’clock it was reaching riot proportions. The sheriff came out and told everyone to file in in single file. These were all women and no one was listening. He then fired his pistol in the air and screamed, “You will get in line!” One woman charged the sheriff and he cold cocked her on the chin! Immediately the rest of the women instantly got in line. That incident is still a very vivid memory for Jim.

They had one very young nurse who was supposed to give the shots and she only had two needles and no sterilization. The solution: He had to sterilize the needle in between shots with an alcohol-fueled cigarette lighter.

He went Tachaon Beach one day on a local train. The only first-class car in Korea belongs to the President. The second-class car had nice seats and windows but the third class was not much more than a cattle car with wooden benches and no windows. The local train would stop for you just like a bus would. If there were 2 people a couple hundred yards apart, the train would pick up one and then start up for 200 yards and stop for the next person. Consequently, it turned into a long and eventful train ride. He is eating and drinking with the locals. The train stops and picks up a little lady with a large bundle wrapped in a scarf. She sits down next to Jim because that is the only seat available. He noticed that she smelled really bad. Then he saw that maybe the bundle moved. After a while it really moved. She had a live pig in her bundle! The way you took a pig to market in Korea in those days was to get the pig drunk and then take him to market. Unfortunately the pig woke up and caused such ruckus that finally a soldier, who was one of the passengers, had to hit the pig on the head with his rifle butt to get him to calm down!

Jim has a love for the people of Korea. There, people are very sensitive to other people. They take care of their own and he loved that about them. He had a little adjustment when he came home because in America sometimes people don’t really take care about their neighbors and are much less sensitive to those around them in general. It is not better or worse, but definitely different from America.

He was sent home from Korea early because he got typhoid a second time. Within days of arriving back in Alabama, Uncle Sam sent a draft notice. That started another chain of interesting event. Jim then decided that he would join the air force before the army could get him. He did so and ended up at Lackland Air Force Base. There he was supposed to go in to officer training school except they cut back on the programs and he got bumped out. His superior officer told him to go to admin and get a job. Jim said that he had taught English as a second language so they gave him a job. He was feeling pretty good about the job and signed up willingly. He didn’t know that by signing that he was going almost directly to Vietnam literally just weeks after finishing boot camp.

The director of the air force language school training program he took after boot camp turned out to be the director of his Peace Corps training at Blue Knob, known to Jim as Uncle Frank. Uncle Frank made the short training program and his additional stay at Lackland relatively pleasant. The next thing he knew he was at Travis Air Force Base in California getting on a plane to Vietnam. He ended up in a combat zone in a special program attached to MACV (Military Assistance Command Vietnam) under General Westmoreland. A few years later he was transferred back to McCoy Air Force Base in Orlando, Florida.

Jim spent the last two years in the air force in Orlando. He got his real estate license the last year that he was in the air force. He had intended to go to law school after the air force but ended up staying in real estate.

In 1970 he went to a free one-day seminar given by Warren Harding, which was an introduction to exchanging. It was the most exciting thing that he had ever heard in all of his exposure to real estate. He then took Warren’s six-day class and was so excited about this new world of exchanging that he decided to pursue real estate as an exchanger and forgot all about law school even though he was accepted and had scholarships at three law schools.

Over the next three years he traveled the country taking every class he could sign up for: Colby Sandlian, Bob Steele, Dick Reno, and Chet Allen 1978 (his 3rd or 4th class), Bill Broadbent and almost everybody else that was teaching back then. The magnet was Chuck Chatham’s counseling course, which he continued to take over and over for several years in many locations. Chuck was a mentor and guide and a “crusty” task master goading Jim to counsel more effectively.

Jim obtained the CCIM Designation (#934) in 1973 and attended Art Hamel’s class and so earned his Institute of Certified Business Counselors designation. He also earned the EMS Exchange Marketing Specialist, awarded by the National Council of Exchangors. The pinnacle of his real estate career was being accepted as a Counselor by the Society of Exchange Counselors in 2004.

Jim has two words of victory when speaking of his younger years: “I survived”! I think that expression encapsulates the idea that he didn’t go astray and that he was blessed with a lot of great mentors. From them he learned early the importance of living by his values.

He notes that his engagement as a top winning debater at the national level of both high school and college debate helped to substantially pay for most of his college tuition.

Wife – Francis
Children – Russell Bradley Wilson, son from first marriage

Jim loves to fish, which is something he learned as a very young boy. He loves to get out by the water. For Jim it is something akin to a meditation. He loves to be out there fishing and he loves to eat them! Jim loves to read and loves to always be learning something new and meeting new people. Jim has played a few rounds of golf over the years but most of his golf friends take him along for comic relief. Still, he enjoys the time outdoors especially with good friends. A big thing is that Jim loves to cook. If he had not gone into real estate, he would have probably pursued being a chef.

Jim is an avid reader. He enjoys all kinds of books. He has been known to read two or three novels at the beach on vacation. He is usually very involved in the community: Heart Fund, Chamber, Optimist club, Boy Scout supporter. Also USO and Wounded Warrior are very near and dear to his heart.

Jim says that he wants to play in the real estate game for a very long time but maybe not as intensely as in past years. He feels that his major contribution in the future could come more from training, videos, or maybe even a book.

He feels a strong desire to pass along his knowledge and experience to the next generation. According to him, most of that knowledge was given to him as a gift from a multitude of wonderful people along his career path and he has been able to put some experience on top of the knowledge. It is important to pass that along to the next generation of professionals.

In the past he wanted to be very wealthy and worked up to that goal, which he has gotten well past today. There is a point at which he believes that family, health and friendships trump any amount of material success achieved. They are the true treasures in life.

im says that, in his opinion and assessment, the overwhelming majority of people do not think correctly about real estate. Real estate is to him a vehicle for people to use in achieving goals and objects associated with their lives. Real estate might be the farm on which you live and work. It might be a property from which one conducts their business life. I might be an investment that will put the kids through college or provide for a pleasant retirement.

Jim particularly does not like win-lose transactions. In his philosophy, every party to a transaction should be delivering what is less beneficial to them and receiving what is more beneficial. Transactions are even possible only because different people need different benefits and different times in their lives.

For a long time, the real estate industry has trained real estate owners to expect free work from real estate professionals and we must work as professionals to change this.

By Jim’s reckoning many of the problems we have in transactional real estate occur because people don’t understand the relationship between ownership and benefits.

He likes to quote Davy Crockett: Any government big enough to give you everything is big enough to take everything. Jim also is quick to point out that big net worth statements can be fleeting.

Jim cites one weakness that has caused him problems: he tends to expect others to do what they say – in other words, do their job, honor their word. Unfortunately, many don’t, and that can cause problems. So far it has not kept him from continuing to expect and to have faith.

It may also be a weakness but he does not favor the confrontational approach to business.

im feels that one of his strengths is that he has been blessed with a great memory. He has the ability to see multi-layer transactions in his head. Another important strength is that he does have a lot of training and experience that he can bring to bear in helping clients.

In the 1970’s Jim had some clients who were truly financially behind the eight ball. He helped them by working through tagging on to an international arbitrage that worked, closed and saved his clients. Even though a minor player, he got to go to Europe and see first-hand how it is possible to borrowed 500M dollars in another currency, use insurance and other financial structures to guarantee most of the principal and interest and use the rest to invest very profitably. That is a world of Lloyds of London, private European banks, reinsurance guarantees, sinking funds, monetary exchange risk analysis and a whole lot more. It is just one more opportunity to learn more and meet exciting and interesting people. The important end result was that a successful somewhat complex arbitrage allowed them to make a profit and his clients, who stood to lose everything, were saved.

First firefight in Vietnam: Jim says that no matter how well-trained people are they revert to who they are in that moment. Some people cave and others find that they can function under fear. In the most basic terms that moment separated all men/women.

Jim proudly admits that the most memorable event in his experience as an S.E.C. was getting a phone call from Virgil Opfer from New Hampshire, while Jim was home in Orlando without power because Hurricane Charlie had passed directly over his house. Virgil was the one who told Jim that he had just been made a full member.

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