#ProtectArlington: Widow Whose Husband Was First in Tarrant County to Die from COVID-19 Urges People to Get the Vaccine
By Susan Schrock, Office of Communication
Posted on March 11, 2021, March 11, 2021

Pat James, a retired insurance broker and U.S. Army veteran, got a real kick out of wearing T-shirts with funny sayings and entertaining his nine grandchildren by dressing up in costumes, wigs and hats during the holidays.

One of his gags that really got the kids laughing was a fake thumb he wore with a tip that glowed bright red, said Jean James, his wife of 19 years. In August, when his family was finally able to hold his funeral nearly five months after his death, dozens in attendance lifted up plastic thumbs with glowing red tips in salute to the Arlington man who made so many people happy.

Pat James died March 16, 2020, at age 77. He was the first person in Arlington and in Tarrant County confirmed to have died from COVID-19.

“My husband’s goal in life was to make people laugh,” said Jean James, who still lives at the Texas Masonic Retirement Center that she and her husband called home for three years. “He was very kind and caring. He seemed really quiet— but then again not— because he had the best sense of humor.”

Weeks before the one-year anniversary of her husband’s death, Jean James received her second dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine at the Arlington Fire Department’s emergency mass vaccination site. Recalling how quickly her husband’s flu-like symptoms became deadly in the span of a few days, Jean James encourages others to protect themselves and their loved ones from the coronavirus.

"Every day that week I said, ‘Let me take you back to the ER.’ He wasn’t getting better. On Thursday, I called the nurse and she came down a couple hours later. His oxygen levels were in the 60s. She immediately went outside and called 911. They took him and that was the last time I saw him,” she said. “I didn’t have a chance to say goodbye.”

Over the past year, Tarrant County has seen its number of confirmed COVID-19 deaths grow to more than 3,000. In Arlington, which has more than 525 confirmed COVID-19 deaths, the Fire Department continues its efforts to vaccine eligible individuals against the coronavirus and to help reduce the strain on local hospital system. Between Dec. 28, 2020 and March 9, 2021, more than 122,000 COVID-19 vaccines total have been administered between the Fire Department’s Esports Stadium Arlington site and the Community Vaccination Center at Globe Life Field.

Jean James, 76, said she feels relieved to among the first in the community to be vaccinated. She said she doesn’t want others to feel the pain she and her family have experienced suddenly losing Pat, a long-time community volunteer who was involved in Boys Scouts of America, his church’s youth mentoring program, the Masons, and the Shriners.

“To me, it’s the scariest thing that we are facing in our lives or ever have faced in our lives,” Jean James said of the virus responsible for more than 525,000 deaths in the United States. “The only way we can get control of it is if people get vaccinated.”

“If we don’t get it, it’s going to spread,” she added. “Many people will say ‘Oh my, I had COVID and it wasn’t that bad.’ Well no, you are still here. The ones who had it bad are not still here.”

Jean James

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