WC first met Jim Hayes on a basketball court. Hayes was the starting center for the Lathrop Malemutes; WC was a very skinny Junior Varsity player, just a few weeks away from washing out of even the JV team, and gave away some 60-70 pounds and six inches to Hayes, who was a mass of muscle. It was a pickup game. Hayes blocked WC’s first two jumpers, and had a soft, right-handed hook shot that was all but unstoppable. The one time WC was able to get a charging call, Hayes’ momentum knocked WC halfway across the court. Hayes came over and helped WC up, asking if everything was all right. He was that kind of guy.
Hayes led the Malemutes to the state championship game, losing to Ketchikan in overtime. An absolute gentleman, he made a point of shaking the hand and congratulating each member of the K-High team.
Fast forward to 1993. Hayes was the newly elected Mayor of Fairbanks – the first African-American Mayor in Alaska – and it was WC’s painful task to negotiate a settlement of a claim against the City. The claim arose before Hayes was Mayor, and involved some pretty serious misconduct by a junior city official. Hayes listened to his advisors, listened to WC, reached a settlement and, when the amount and terms were tentatively agreed to, asked WC’s permission to speak directly to WC’s client, and then asked the client, “Are you satisfied this deal is good for you?”
A minister by vocation – it seemed to WC that everything except a family was an avocation for Hayes – he seemed to WC to be the embodiment of true Christian values. He seemed to practice what he preached, not just in terms of community service but in his interactions with everyone.
Which made his 2008 indictment for theft utterly baffling to WC. He and his wife, Chris, stole as much as $450,000 in federal grant monies. In 2008, a Fairbanks jury, after deliberating for 5 days, found Hayes, guilty of 16 counts of Conspiracy, Theft from a Program Receiving Federal Funds, Money Laundering and Filing False Tax Returns. It turned out they had used the government funds to pay personal bills and for expenditures likes a plasma television for their home, a family wedding reception, credit card bills and old debts and other personal items. Chris Hayes attempted to conceal the source of the payments by causing the charity to write checks to cash that she then converted to money orders and cashier’s checks to make the illegal payments.
Jim served his sentence of 66 months. He returned to Fairbanks and his ministry. And pretty much disappeared from the public eye. WC saw him just once afterwards, in a matter involving another client who was a friend of Hayes. Hayes was visibly aged. We talked briefly. When WC asked how he was doing, Hayes said, “Well, you know I let a lot of people down.”
WC attempted to reassure Hayes that he had served his sentence, paid his fines and needed to put that behind him, as best he could. Hayes thanked WC for the “kind words,” but repeated, “I let a lot of people down.”
WC’s professional career brought him in contact with any number of criminals, indicted and unindicted, convicted and acquitted. None of them accepted responsibility more, or felt worse about it, than Jim Hayes. Not just because of the impact on him, but also because of the impact his misconduct had on others. For WC, at least, that makes Jim Hayes pretty special.
WC’s sympathies to Chris and the kids and grandkids. And try not to let that mistake color your memories of an otherwise outstanding man.
Requiescat in pace, Jim Hayes, 1946-2022.