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Behind the Scenes

A Late Note on an Early Passing

The other day, I was rummaging through the seemingly thousands of Bally stories we published this year for a magazine contest we're entering when I came across a name that looked familiar. And when I put two and two together, I realized I should have written this a long time ago.

Until this week, I never realized that fitness veteran Jim Booker, who passed away in October and whose death we reported in our magazine, was the same Jim Booker I had interviewed for a story we did on Bally during the summer. My predecessor, Amy Fischbach, had also interviewed him for this magazine and left his contact information with me.

Booker, best known as the founder of American Fitness Centers, died of pancreatic cancer at his home in Alpharetta, GA, a suburb of Atlanta, at the age of 76. I interviewed him because he was a Bally investor, and I wanted some insight into the company's possible bankruptcy proceedings. Jim was one of the few people I talked to who supported Bally, even though he acknowledged it had made mistakes in recent years.

Jim grew up in Kansas City, where we are based, and talked about being a member of Brookridge Golf and Country Club, where I had been earlier that day for a journalism summit. Jim launched his first gym in Kansas City in 1954 after putting together a few pieces of exercise equipment in his parents' garage.

Jim was ahead of his time. He was into protein shakes before anyone else was and shunned white bread from the dinner table. A few years ago, I lost a few pounds using the South Beach diet, and until then, I didn't realize how much sugar and carbs white bread has.

Before we got off the phone, Jim and I talked about Kansas City some more, then he asked about Amy.

"Has she had that baby yet?" he asked me.

Yes, I told him, and that baby was kind of the reason I got this position.

Jim was still on top of his game, even though I didn't realize how sick he was at the time. His wife, Ruth JoAnn--people just call her Jo, she told me today--said that Jim kept the illness to himself and that the cancer had gotten really bad leading up to the day he died. He also left behind four daughters and two grandchildren.

Jennipher Shaver and I attended one of the best seminars we've been to this year at the Athletic Business conference last week in Orlando. The seminar was all about the history of the fitness industry, and that gave us a lot of ideas as we prepare to celebrate the magazine's 25th anniversary next year.

I wish Jim was still around to help us with our celebration. I also wish this was written a couple of months ago.

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