The public death of a private man

He wasn’t homeless. His address was 627 14th Street. Apartment 4.

But when James “Jimmy” Olds ended his life at the steps of the Mission Dolores gift shop two weeks ago, a press release from the Archdiocese of San Francisco imprinted him as just another casualty of the streets:

“An unidentified homeless man in his 40’s or 50’s shot himself in front of the church when he was awakened by a parish maintenance staff member beginning his daily shift at the church.”

Jimmy had a home. He had a life. He had, without question, memories of a colorful life as a sailor. Friends told SFBay he had a stroke a few years ago. At 85, in diminishing health, Olds decided it was his time. In his way.

In hopes of closure for some, a simple touch of reality, an outreach within the community or whatever it may be, Mission Dolores will conduct a public memorial service for James “Jimmy” Olds today at 11 am.

Andy Anderson, 83, is a seaman who still works at the Sailor’s Union of the Pacific, a San Francisco institution dating to 1885.

Anderson knew Jimmy for 50 years. He and Jimmy were shipmates back in the day, three voyages together on the vessels Santa Mercedes, Santa Maria and Santa Catalina.

As shipmates, the men sailed all over South America on the passenger-cargo ships dubbed as “the three Dels.”

When asked if he had any comments about Olds, Anderson said:

“The best I could say is a sailor’s compliment. Jimmy was a hell of a shipmate!”

Olds is not known to have any living relatives, in San Francisco or elsewhere. He is said to be an orphan, with no wife or children. Friends said Olds was originally from Boston and shipped out from New York.

A lady from the Sailor’s Union who asked not to be named said that she has known Olds for 36 years:

“Jimmy was known as a master locksmith. He was very mechanical and generous with his knowledge. He was a great guy, but a very private man.”

When queried if she knew what a “sailor’s compliment” meant, she stated that:

“Seamen have a brotherhood. They don’t like to talk about each other.”

Olds was also known in the Mission neighborhood where he lived, around 14th Street between Market and Dolores Streets. He frequented M&L Market, a local deli known for the best hot pastrami sandwiches in The City.

Grandma May, the super-matriarchal owner of M&L Market recounted:

“Jimmy was a very good man. He was a very handy and funny man. He liked my almond cookies and his favorite was our turkey and tuna sandwiches. One time, I got locked out and he helped me out. I tried to pay him and he wouldn’t take my money.”

Judy, co-owner of M&L Market — and May’s daughter — later followed up with:

“No photograph exists of Jimmy.”

Lastly, Raju Kumar, a man of many good wills, will be at today’s memorial. Kumar, 51, works part-time as a parish maintenance worker at Mission Dolores and is co-owner of Simmi’s Boutique on Mission Street. He was the man who witnessed Olds end his life two weeks ago:

“What a morning. I opened the church, and when I came outside, I wanted to make sure everything was fine outside since it was part of my job. Most of the time, people just sleep outside. … I was trying to help, suddenly he just gave me eye contact and that was when he pulled the trigger.”