Jim was born in Kilsythe, Scotland. Despite the early loss of most of his hearing, he went on to graduate from the University of Glasgow in civil engineering and won a scholarship to study at M.I.T. Jim came to British Columbia to work for the BC Power Commission in the late 1940s. He then did advanced studies in urban planning at North Carolina, including an internship at the Tennessee Valley Authority.
He returned to BC in 1952 as the first Executive Director for the newly formed Lower Mainland Regional Planning Board, where his vision of ‘cities in a sea of green’ shaped the region's urban planning for decades. In the 1960's, Jim worked as a planner for BC Hydro, where his specific duties involved assessing the impact of major projects upon local communities and, more generally, to introduce specific themes of social welfare interest into Hydro planning and policies.
He then went east to teach planning at Brock University and the University of Waterloo. He wrote the frank and eloquent book People in the Way about helping resettle the people of the Arrow Lakes who were flooded out by the Columbia River project. Jim's abiding affection for the region and its inhabitants is clear in his writing. Reviewing the book in 1972, Vancouver Sun columnist Allan Fotherhingham concluded, ‘A good book. A good man.’ He returned to BC in 1972 as Executive Director of BC Hydro under the new NDP government. In 1975, Jim re-entered higher education, spending his final working years as Professor of urban and rural planning in Geography at Simon Fraser University.
Jim lost his wife at about the time of his retirement, but continued active in various ways, teaching night school at Capilano College, authoring a book for Self Counsel Press, and consulting. He went on to enjoy life into his 90s and, during his last years, could sometimes be seen on his scooter in the main streets of West Vancouver, en route to a coffee shop, and flying his skull and crossbones flag to alert the traffic of his presence. The title of his book, and that flag as a statement about urban traffic, says it all.
Jim was universally described as a ‘true gentleman.’ On April 28, 2009, he died peacefully in his easy chair at a big window overlooking Burrard Inlet.