Even in the end, Jim Fisher was writing.
It was two days before his death that he submitted his last work “The Final Poem” for print, said Ruth Marcus, his friend and publishing partner.
Fisher, a beloved Peninsula College English professor, writer, husband, father, grandfather and friend, asked Marcus to help complete his final book “The Big Casino: Posthumorous Poems.”
Marcus said Fisher e-mailed her the manuscript on Oct. 10 and he told her there was one more poem to come.
Rereading his final poem, Marcus said, “It still gives me chills.”
“The Big Casino” began after Fisher, 72, was diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer on Oct. 13, 2013.
“He wanted this book,” Ann Fisher, his wife said. “I think this is the book that kept him going.”
Fisher died on Nov. 2 but he found a rejuvenation in Sequim, his wife said.
Twenty-plus years ago they were living in Los Angeles, Calif., and after visiting Sequim they arrived back home to the breaking news of O.J. Simpson’s infamous highway chase. Ann said they still had the recent riots in the back of their minds, too, so they decided to move into their rental house in Sequim permanently.
Fisher applied to teach at Peninsula College and Ann became a realtor.
“The life here became what we wanted,” Ann said. “We just know that when we got it we didn’t want to leave it.”
Prior, Fisher worked for 20 years in a Proctor & Gamble warehouse following a family tradition but Ann said he struggled there with alcoholism. He started pursuing teaching but determined it wouldn’t make enough money to cover his family’s needs, so he went back to the warehouse.
Ann said he hit rock bottom but found hope in an English seminar for the poet Edmund Spenser at Cal State Long Beach.
“Jim fell in love with the writing,” Ann said. “So he decided that now he’s sober he decided to commit to college again.”
Around that time, Proctor & Gamble announced the closure of its Long Beach plant, which allowed Fisher to go back to school. He was tasked to write his first book about the closure.
“His whole world opened up in a different way,” Ann said. “I think Edmund Spenser changed his life. If it hadn’t been for the allegory about ‘The Faerie Queene’ that Jim loved he wouldn’t have had the pull or energy.”
Fisher eventually became sober with help attending Alcoholics Anonymous. Five years into that his wife Diane Patterson died of cancer after a year of treatments. She and Jim have two daughters.
“The Big Casino” includes one prose piece by Fisher for his granddaughter in Diane’s voice so that she could have an idea of her grandmother whom she never met.
Fisher met Ann through AA and the duo began dating and eventually married.
Following the changes of Proctor & Gamble, Fisher pursued his academic interests including a master’s degree at Cal State Long Beach and a doctorate at USC.
Fisher has authored several books, all available online, such as “Granny May Have Been a Vampire,” “Genesis of Love” and “Around the World on a Metaphor.”
Marcus said “The Big Casino” follows Fisher from diagnosis of Stage 4 cancer to death’s door.
The title, “The Big Casino” is a euphemism, Fisher writes, for death much like “sleep” in Raymond Chandler’s “The Big Sleep,” as well as usage in the 1960 “Ocean’s Eleven,” and more recently used in the HBO series “The Sopranos” and Vincent Coppola’s similarly titled book following his diagnosis.
“The idea behind the euphemism’s use is that the house always win,” Fisher wrote.
Also included in “The Big Casino” are works written about him from friends like Tess Gallagher, Bruce Hattendorf and Kate Reavey. Several friends presented pieces to him at his 72nd birthday celebration in July.
Ann said they traveled extensively and they finished with with a five-week road trip to see his daughter in New York because they always opted to fly out his daughter’s instead.
The trip that included sightseeing at Crazy Horse, Mount Rushmore, Washington, D.C., and was cut short five days due to his health, Ann said, and two months later Fisher died.
Marcus remembers Fisher telling a mutual writing group about his diagnosis.
“One of the most remarkable things of his journey with cancer was that every month there were two writing group meetings and he would read and when his cough would get bad, he would pause and try and get control,” Marcus said.
“The discipline and commitment to me was so memorable. He had a strength and a love for the writing that he would show up every month for the groups.”
Fisher is remembered at a private memorial service on Nov. 22 and his book is available at Port Book & News and at online book dealers along with his other books.