Published 8:55 am Thursday, February 22, 2018

OPELIKA, Ala. — Robert Edward James of Opelika, Ala. passed away on February 20, 2018 at the age of 72. He was born July 24, 1945 in West Point, Ga. to Forrest Hood James, Sr. and Rebecca Francis Ellington James.   

Mr. James attended public schools in Lanett, Ala. and Baylor School in Chattanooga, Tennessee. He attended Baylor School from 1960-1962. He returned home and graduated from Lanett High School in 1963. Mr. James was a proud member of the Lanett High School band programs. He attended Auburn University and later studied at The New York School of Interior Design in New York City.

While in New York, he served apprenticeships under the renowned interior designers William Farenga and Harvey Smith, his beloved cousin. Mr. James worked as an interior designer throughout Alabama, Georgia, and New York during his professional career, specializing in Persian carpets, exclusive fabrics, fine porcelains, and American and European antiques. Mr. James was well respected for his creativity and devotion toward designing exquisite and stunning interiors and for providing trusted and professional advice to his clients.

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Mr. James was actively involved and interested in the preservation of historic structures throughout East Alabama. He was very supportive of the establishment and recognition of the Opelika Northside Historic District. He was a devoted supporter of the revitalization of Historic Downtown Opelika. He held deep appreciation for the rich heritage of Opelika and his native area, and he was always open and eager to share his passion for preserving its legacy.

He was a longtime patron of The Arts Association of East Alabama and an avid supporter of the Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art and the Museum of East Alabama. Mr. James was an outspoken advocate for the preservation of green spaces and planting of trees in downtown Opelika. He was quick to tell his listeners that the most beautiful cities in the South were Savannah, Charleston, LaGrange, and Eufaula, and the reason for their beauty was that those cities had lovely, well-kept homes and gorgeous shade trees lining their streets.

Mr. James was an accomplished pianist and often provided music for weddings in the East Alabama area. He frequently designed impressive floral arrangements on special occasions for family, friends, and clients.      

One of Mr. James’ greatest pleasures was entertaining guests alongside his mother, “Miss Rebecca,” at their home in Opelika where they would serve his famed Charleston coffee, lace cookies, and cheese straws while wearing his infamous tattered blue denim jumpsuit

or white painter’s pants with a heavily starched, light blue Oxford cloth Brooks Brothers shirt. The recipes for his famed chilled beverage and delicious treats are, still to this day, a closely held family secret.Mr. James was a fascinating conversationalist and could talk endlessly, holding his listeners spellbound with his vast knowledge of the British Royal Family or reciting in detail the genealogy of the James, Ellington, Robertson, and Harris families in Chambers and Lee Counties. Only a few of his very closest friends ever knew that each year on Queen Elizabeth’s birthday, he would send Her Majesty a bouquet of roses to Buckingham Palace with birthday wishes. Mr. James was truly a man that fit perfectly the description of one who could “walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch.” (If, Rudyard Kipling)

Mr. James was a lifetime member of the United Methodist Church and a current member of the Gold Hill United Methodist Church in Gold Hill, Alabama. He was a life member and lineal descendent of the Somerset Chapter Magna Charta Barons, as well as numerous other genealogical societies. In addition, Mr. James was a charter member of the Richard Henry Lee Chapter of the Sons of the American Revolution where he held various leadership positions.

Mr. James is survived by his brother, Former Governor Forrest Hood James, Jr. (Bobbie) of Fairhope, Alabama; his sister-in-law Mrs. Calvin Ellington James, Sr. (Dora) of Opelika; his niece Sidney Porter James Nakhjavan (Behzad) and great nephew Arian Hanson Nakhjavan of Auburn; nephew Calvin Ellington James, Jr. (Ashley), great nieces Katherine Ashley James and Courtney Ellington James, and great nephew Calvin Ellington James, III of Auburn; and niece Kathryn-Aimee Rebecca James Reese (Jeffrey) of San Francisco, California. He is survived by numerous relatives and close friends in Alabama and Georgia.

Mr. James is preceded in death by his parents Forrest Hood James, Sr. and Rebecca Francis Ellington James; his brother Calvin Ellington James, Sr.; his nephew Gregory Fleming James; and his great niece Grace Porter James.

The family would like to express deep appreciation to Mr. and Mrs. Earnest Grady (Peggy) and Mr. and Mrs. Rolahac Phillips (Alberta) for their friendship and loving care given to Mr. James. The family also wishes to thank the many friends and caregivers for their expressions of support and encouragement.

Visitation with the family will be Thursday, February 22, 2018, 5:00 until 7:00 p.m. at the Heritage House in Opelika.

A graveside service celebrating the life of Mr. James will be Friday, February 23, 2018 at 3:00 p.m. at Garden Hills Cemetery in Opelika. The graveside service will be officiated by Reverend Tom Tippett.

In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions maybe made in Mr. James’ memory to the Robert Edward James Legacy Fund/Community Foundation of East Alabama, P.O. Box 165, Opelika Alabama 36803.

Frederick-Dean Funeral Home is directing.