The American Folklife Center is very sad to pass on the news of the death of James Budd Hardin, who worked as the editor for the Center from 1987 until his retirement in 2004. Jim died peacefully at home on April 4, with family by his side. Throughout his tenure at the Library of Congress, Jim was a highly respected and well-liked colleague who was known for his dedication, hard work, outstanding sense of organization, meticulous attention to detail, willingness to pitch in for the good of the Library, and wry sense of humor. At AFC in particular, Jim was a beloved staff member, and will be missed by his former colleagues at the Center and throughout the Library of Congress.
Jim was born in Rhinebeck, New York, on October 19, 1940. His parents were Mary Elmendorf Budd and Benjamin Warner Hardin. Jim grew up in Red Hook, Dutchess County, in the Hudson River Valley. He graduated from Red Hook High School, from Colgate University with a BA in English, and from Syracuse University with a PhD.
Before coming to the Library of Congress, Jim was an instructor at Le Moyne College, in Syracuse, New York, and at the University of Richmond; a sales representative for the McGraw-Hill Book Company, based in Richmond; and an intelligence coordinator for the Army Intelligence Corps, stationed in Stuttgart, Germany.
According to David Taylor, writing in Folklife Center News, the story of Jim’s employment at the Library began on a late summer afternoon in 1977, when he strolled into the Archive of Folk Song (as the Center’s archive was then known) to visit with his college classmate, Gerry Parsons, then a reference librarian in the archive. Having recently completed a Ph.D. in American literature, at a time when teaching positions were in short supply, Jim was “considering other career opportunities” (i.e., looking for work). One of Gerry’s colleagues knew of a vacancy in the Library’s publishing office, and Jim applied for the job.
Jim worked as an editor in the Library of Congress Publishing Office for eight years, during which he edited more than sixty books, brochures, and other scholarly publications. He was an associate editor of the Quarterly Journal of the Library of Congress (1978–83), and, most importantly for his future, founding editor of Folklife Annual (1985– 90). In May of 1987, Jim moved to the American Folklife Center, where he continued to produce volumes of Folklife Annual and became the editor of Folklife Center News.
From the 1980s until his retirement in 2004, Jim had an important role in all the Center’s activities. He prepared documents that helped secure our long-sought permanent authorization by the U.S. Congress. He served as the Center’s public information coordinator, assembled the Center’s monthly and annual reports, and was in charge of the Center’s many publications. To support his role as editor, he also took on the role of the Center’s main photographer. One of his crowning achievements was the American Folklife Center’s Illustrated Guide, originally a small but glossy book, which is now online at this link.
Since retiring from the Library in 2004, Jim spent significant time traveling, often with friends and former colleagues from AFC. He was one of the first members of Capitol Hill Village, an aging-in-place organization, and served on the Village Board for many years. He was a singer with a lovely tenor voice and sang in many Washington choruses, including the Congressional Chorus, the Lesbian and Gay Chorus of Washington, and the Capitol Hill Choral Society. Perhaps most importantly, he took the time to train to become a Library of Congress docent, and for 12 years was one of our most sought-after volunteer tour guides.
According to Devol Funeral Home, Jim is survived by his sister-in-law, Teresa Marie Hardin of Fishkill, New York; his nephew William Michael Hardin and his wife Amy Catherine Hardin of Round Rock, Texas; his nephew Jeffrey Scott Hardin and wife Christina Janette Hardin of Orlando, Florida; his grand-nieces Madison, Emma, and Violet Hardin of Round Rock, Texas; cousins Eugene Budd, Jr. of Harbeson, Delaware, and John H. Myers of Germantown, New York; and many friends. Jim is pre-deceased by his brother, Peter Warner Hardin of Fishkill, New York.
Jim will be missed by his family, by his colleagues at the Library, and throughout the wider folklore and Capitol Hill communities.
In 1998, saddened by the death of Gerry Parsons and the retirement of Joe Hickerson, Jennifer Cutting shared with Jim the poem “September, 1961” by Denise Levertov, which begins:
This is the year the old ones,
the old great ones
leave us alone on the road.
The road leads to the sea.
We have the words in our pockets,
obscure directions. The old ones
have taken away the light of their presence,
we see it moving away over a hill
off to one side.
Jim, a lifelong poet and poetry enthusiast, shared this response with the youngest, newest staff members at AFC:
This is the year the young ones,
The expectant ones,
Take to the road.
Where the road leads,
They do not yet see.
They take obscure directions from the old ones,
They rip them up and make new ones.
The old ones have turned off the lights.
The young ones have lights of their own.
They stay on the road
And do not look at the hill.
It’s twenty-four years later, and Jim Hardin has left us. But he loved the road, and he loved the Hill; his directions are clear, and we are not alone.
RIP, Jim! You will be missed. Love your response to the poem!
Jim was a gentleman, a scholar, and a good friend to many. He is missed but will be long remembered.
Thank you, Stephen Winick, for this thoughtful review of the highlights of James Hardin’s life, and for the graceful poetic conclusion. It offers us solace at a time of sad transition.
A beautiful tribute to Jim, his life and legacy. There is a void left by the loss of this very kind man. My deepest condolences to all who grieve his passing. Rest easy, Jim.
As a former colleague of Jim’s, I join his other friends and co-workers in a sad farewell. I recall working with Jim, as editor, on a handful of early Folklife Center publications in the late 1970s. This was before the Madison Building had opened, and the Publishing Office was in the Navy Yard. Consulting with Jim entailed a (welcome-escape) trek to the other side of Capitol Hill. Years later, in 2015, Jim turned up in Paris while I was attending the annual conference of the International Association of Sound and Audiovisual Archives: I played hooky one day and Jim and I had a pleasant hike around the Notre Dame Cathedral and the Centre Pompidou. Remembrance of a sunny day to counteract this melancholy occasion.
I had the desk next to Jim’s at the American Folklife Center. Lots of laughs, lots of good conversation. Now lots of good memories. RIP Jim.
What a beautiful tribute to our Uncle Jim. It is amazing to read more about his work. He spoke often to us, his family, of his life at the LOC and AFC. He certainly enjoyed his work, colleagues, and all that he experienced in his life in DC. We miss him dearly and getting the opportunity to read these wonderful comments from his friends is such a blessing to honor his memory.
Jim was such a wonderful colleague, an outstanding editor who had just the right touch of editing counsel, making you feel like you had written well, but offering gentle and well-needed critiques that always made the piece better. He had an excellent sense of humor, was so congenial to work with and was a fine musician and a curious-minded reader who shared his knowledge in delightful ways. I will miss him.