Jim Sills, Jr., a dedicated conservative who was a political consultant based in San Diego County, died unexpectedly earlier this month just after completing a very successful set of election victories. One of those surprise victories was the election of long-time conservative activist Gary Kreep to the Superior Court of San Diego County. The following is a remembrance of Jim Sills penned by Superior Court Judge-elect Gary Kreep.
Jim Sills, Norm Olney and I met in 1969 at University of California at San Diego, where we were all students. Jim became editor of a student newspaper, DIMENSION, that Norm, Jim, Karl “Klutz” Keating (of the film “The Incredible Bread Machine” fame), and I worked on, with other students there. At Jim’s suggestion, we formed a Chapter of Young Americans for Freedom (YAF) at UCSD, because the College Republicans were mostly a bunch of liberals who did nothing to oppose the left on campus. We three battled against the left on campus in very real ways, and we earned our stripes in the conservative movement. We brought William F. Buckley, M. Stanton Evans, Congressman John Ashcroft, Ernst Van Den Haag, and other conservative intellectuals to UCSD to speak. We stood up to Herbert Marcuse, Byron King (then National Secretary of Students for a
Democratic Society “SDS”), and future Communist Party USA leader Angela Davis, all who were on our campus in those days. Although the media covered it up, there was regular violence on the UCSD campus, including one night when Jim was attacked from behind and knocked onto concrete, and a brick was thrown at me, narrowly missing my head–that same night, radicals unsuccessfully tried to firebomb the Dean’s Office there. We often had to work at night to do our conservative deeds, for fear of physical attacks by the left, and reprisals by the anti-conservative UCSD campus administration.
I went on to become California State Chairman of YAF, and Jim was my Executive Director, both of us working out of an office in Kearney Mesa. We managed to pull a few “coups” in those days, including Jim arranging for a mobile billboard to be donated one weekend for use by YAF. It was placed in the parking lot of the Towne & Country Inn, in Mission Valley, for the 1976 Republican State Convention there. It read “CALIFORNIA YOUNG AMERICANS FOR FREEDOM WELCOMES RONALD REAGAN”. Future President Reagan was attending the Convention, and the billboard landed me a personal meeting with then former Governor Reagan, who thanked me for the billboard and for the support–it was one of the highlights of my life.
Jim also was the architect of YAF’s San Diego City Council Attendance Awards, in which we handed out nicely made plaques for good attendance, and lampooned those who failed to appear for their City Council meetings. We gave former City Councilman, and former Congressman, Bill Lowery the “Vacationer of the Year Award,” for his 7 vacations from Council meetings in one year–the award was presented by YAFer Greg Dundas, who was wearing bermuda shorts, tennis shoes, white socks, sunglasses, and a Hawaiian shirt for the ceremony. We also gave a map of downtown San Diego to another Member of the Council, who had missed 44% of all meetings that year. The media loved it, covered it, and laughed like crazy at our antics. One former San Diego City Councilman, who later became a San Diego County Superior Court Judge, one day showed me plaques that I had given him years before for his good attendance that were hanging in his Court chambers, and he told me how he was proud of the awards.
Jim, Norm, and I stayed friends every since. As anyone who knew Jim could tell you, he NEVER talked about himself, or what he was doing for his clients, or, for that matter, who his clients even were in any specific election. But Jim let a few of us have a little look inside Jim.
After my near death experience in 2010, Jim told me about his brother having similar heart bypass surgery a few years before, and how he had come through that just fine–he was trying to encourage me that I could resume a complete life after essentially dying twice in the hospital. According to those present, when Jim first came to the hospital, and he saw me all full of tubes in my mouth, and attached to a lot of machines, as the doctors fought to save my life, he started crying. He also brought me a 1959 Willie Mays baseball card–he knew Willie was my childhood hero.
This year, it is no exaggeration to say that he was, in large part, responsible for my election as a San Diego County Superior Court Judge. He died the Friday after the election, before I re-took the lead in the balloting for the final time in one of the closest judicial elections in San Diego history. However, I believe that Jim has been watching down on the vote counting, and he now has one of his big smiles on his face, happy that I won the election.
Jim was a true friend, and I’m not ashamed to say that I have been crying too since I found out about his death. Jim had a profound, and positive, impact on my life, and I will miss him greatly.