Jim Farley was an old time Platte Countian who never stopped studying the world around him. Farley was vintage and new at the same time. He could talk history with the best of them in one conversation, and then he could switch gears to discuss a pressing current event in the county, state, nation or world.Chances are he knew more details than you or I. Certainly, he always had perspective and opinion, among the most respected in Platte County.
Farley, 86, died April 13. Those who knew him and called him a friend will miss him. James Wallace Farley certainly was among the most unique persons that I’ve ever known in Platte County. He will not be replaceable.
Here you have a man whose ancestors were active in the Civil War era, founded the town of Farley, Mo., formed and ran the Farley State Bank for more than a century and wielded great clout in both local and statewide politics.
Jim Farley could have coasted through life. Instead, he made his own mark in politics, history, community leadership and law. Farley probably made enemies and mistakes. He was certainly straightforward and could be blunt, but on-the-money blunt.
I wasn’t close enough to him to know all his sides and history, but I knew enough to enjoy and respect him. I first met Farley in the 1980s as reporter covering various events and legal cases. He’d been practicing law and banking in the county since the 1950s. Over time, we ran into each other on the street, at events, for interviews, and in recent decades, I would stop in every now and then at his office just to visit awhile. He was a fine and interesting conversationalist.
Farley was often tapped as attorney by developers or other interests pursuing unpopular projects in the county. I’ve seen Farley stand up in a room full of angry people and fearlessly state his client’s case. It puzzled me that someone so steeped in the county could take an unpopular side, and I asked him about it. His reply was something like, “if you worry about what people think about you, you shouldn’t be in this (law) business.”
He was thoroughly a lawyer.
I’ve wondered if Farley donated his services to needy folks over the years, quietly so. He did tell me once that he preferred to work quietly behind the scenes on issues involving civic progress. He was a key player in incorporation of the rural water districts and handling their legal affairs through the decades. I once sat in on a small levee board meeting at Waldron, Mo. where a rich out-of-towner was trying to shove around a long-time local family, represented by Farley.
Inviting media worked to his advantage; he knew leverage.
Democrats ran Platte County and often Missouri from the Civil War deep into the 1980s. Farley was a diehard Democrat, a donor, organizer and strategist. For many years, he was the go-to person for reporters who had questions about the county’s Democratic politics.
Jerry Litton, a Democratic Congressman from Chillicothe, won a fierce primary race for the U.S. Senate in 1976. Farley was Litton backer. They sat together at the 1970 Orange Bowl game when Penn State beat the Missouri Tigers.
Litton was killed with his family in a plane crash the night after the primary win. He likely would have won the Senate seat in the fall general election. It was a tragic loss for Farley and Democrats. Once Republicans began to dominate county and state politics in the 1990s, Farley remained a fearless Democrat.
I can still hear him saying that Democrat Claire McCaskill had an excellent chance of winning a U.S. Senate seat, and getting re-elected, when few pundits believed she could. Look at her now.
Farley wasn’t just a party flag waver; he could talk details about policy or election strategy, but Farley was also friends with Republicans, if he thought them worthy public servants.
Farley was a fine photographer and even produced books of his pictures. His books about Platte Countians in the Civil War were excellent and are quoted by other authors. We wouldn’t appreciate guerilla Si Gordon without his research.
Not only was Farley an excellent historian with a deep family history, his law office was in W.M. Paxton’s old office at the corner of Third and Main streets in Platte City. Paxton’s “Annals of Platte County” is the Bible for early county history, and he was a lawyer in the same office Farley held court.
Among my favorite memories, years ago Farley invited me to join him at a Kansas City branch of the State Historical Society of Missouri. Farley had ordered a box of Paxton documents for review. We spent an afternoon looking at old newspaper clippings and other Paxton items.
“An interesting afternoon,” he said in understated manner as we left. His was a curious mind who enjoyed digging for information.
People will remember him in various ways.
A friend of mine remembers Farley coaching his summer baseball team at the town of Farley in the 1960s. He bought them a pitching machine. They won a lot of games and had a blast playing baseball in a field on the edge of the Missouri River bottoms.
Among my regrets is that I never accepted Farley’s invitation to go quail hunting.
But we had some darn good conversations about bird dogs, quail, hunts and how much “birdier” the county was before farms got big and development came. He liked Brittany spaniels and often had one with him in recent years. We visited a nursing home a few times together for the No Names group, and he always brought a bird dog along. He handled the dog and the people visited gently.
Farley knew powerful politicians and business leaders. And yet, he had a down-to-earth personality that could enjoy all kinds of people.
My favorite photos of him were taken by Keith Myers and show Farley standing around with regular folks at the Platte County Fair.
Somehow it feels like both a person and an era have passed.
Bill Graham, who lives in the Platte City area with his family, may be reached by e-mail at email@example.com.