Jim Fannon

Jim FannonSEABROOK RESIDENT HAS A PASSION FOR ISLAND HISTORY

Jim Fannon, a resident of The Seabrook of Hilton Head, lectures once a week at the Coastal Discovery Museum at Honey Horn on two of his favorite subjects: the 1861 Battle of Port Royal during the Civil War, and Gullah culture.

He speaks from memory to his audience because he knows the subjects so well, but he does keep note cards handy, just in case.

“My biggest problem is if somebody asks a question … I stop, answer the question, and then I say, ‘Where the heck was I?’ That’s why I have my little notes,” Fannon says while sitting in his memento-filled living room at the island’s first retirement community.

Other than an occasional and brief memory lapse, Fannon is as sharp as a proverbial tack at 91 years old — 92 next month. He could be a poster child for senior citizens with active minds and healthy bodies. He has always been active, even now, during his retirement.

Jim Fannon2He has been a painter since the age of 17, when he was a student at boarding school. He has also been sailing since he was a teenager, and left Dartmouth University in the early 1940s to enlist in the Army Air Corps during World War II. He has been a patron of the Arts Center of Coastal Carolina since its founding 20 years ago, and is a current member and former board holder of the Art League of Hilton Head. As if that’s not enough to keep anyone busy, he also is a docent at Fort Howell who frequently dons his Union Civil War re-enactment uniform and 1850 musket to greet visitors.

Oh, and the father of three and grandfather of six also founded a marketing company in New York City that he owned for 31 years. Among his clients were AT&T, IBM and Pepsi. It was big-time business in the Big Apple for him and his wife, Betty Jane, before they retired in 1989, trading Connecticut winters for a home they built in Hilton Head Plantation.   

“I’m somebody who can’t sit still very long,” Fannon says. “I love this place.”

When he first arrived on the island, he wanted to relax after decades of a high-pressure life as a businessman in the big city. But after a few months, “I got bored and had to do things.”

He was there for the beginning of the Coastal Discovery Museum, when it was a storefront “in the middle of town;” there for the beginning of the arts center, before it was even built; there as the president of the Hilton Head Plantation Artists Association; there as a painter exhibiting his acrylics at  Art League shows’ there during sailboat ocean races; and there playing tennis with his wife. Unfortunately, his wife died three years ago of Alzheimer’s disease.

Now, Fannon performs at Seabrook on stage as a “ham” actor, leads a weekly current events discussion with other residents, works out at a fitness center three times a week, and walks to the beach for exercise.

“I want to keep my mind busy … my body is in good shape,” Fannon says. “I make it part of my life, and I feel so much better.”

But there’s one family matter that ages this nonagenarian unfairly. “When my grandkids were little, they thought I fought in the Civil War,” Fannon says with a laugh.

For the record, he didn’t.