Jim Fester


Jim Fester, age 81, died on Monday, December 6, 2021 surrounded by his loved ones in his home in Warwick, Rhode Island from complications of Corticobasal Ganglionic Degeneration. He was best known for his dark sense of humor, his affinity for science fiction, his enduring love of ice cream, and his dedication to keeping Rhode Island waters clean for everyone to enjoy. James William Fester was born September 16, 1940 in Bellevue, Illinois to William Eugene Fester and Kathryn Juanita (Rich) Fester. His father moved to California to work in the steel industry during World War II, so Jim grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area in the 1940s and 50s, listening to radio shows like Superman and the Lone Ranger, collecting Classic Illustrated comic books, having adventures, and getting into mischief with his brother and sidekick, Thomas Irvin Fester. Jim had fond memories of going to the movies with Tom every Saturday, where, for the price of single quarter, they could see two full-length motion pictures, five cartoons, and one serial -- and have enough left over to for two large boxes of candy! Later in life, Jim created a similar movie tradition, loading candy and his four children into the back of his Impala station wagon and taking them to the Hilltop drive-in on Saturday nights to see science fiction classics like “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” and the memorable “Food of the Gods.” Jim graduated from Balboa High School in 1958, then received an Associate in Arts at the City College of San Francisco in 1961 followed by a Bachelor of Science degree from the School of Public Health at the University of California at Berkeley in 1963. At UC Berkeley, he achieved high academic honors which culminated in his induction into the Phi Beta Kappa honor society. The son of hard-working parents who weren’t able to complete high school, Jim grew up being told in no uncertain terms that he was going to college and not working in the foundry like his father. To them, getting a college education was a “noble cause,” a belief Jim passed onto his own children.  Jim’s fascination with science fiction and space travel originally led him to pursue a career in aeronautical engineering, but a challenging encounter with calculus made him rethink his plans to become a rocket scientist. Around the same time, a friend told him about the Sanitary Science major in the School of Public Health at the University of California, Berkeley. Jim’s childhood experiences in the Boy Scouts and Sea Scouts had taught him great respect for the environment, so he decided to change his career goal. He became a Registered Sanitarian with the State of California Department of Public Health in 1963, and he remained a registered Professional Engineer (PE) until the end of his life. From April 1963 to August 1965, Jim served as an officer in the U.S. Public Health Service. While he was stationed at the Naval Air Station at Quonset Point, he met and married his first wife, Annette Gloria Ansay, and had his first child (daughter René). After Jim completed his military obligation, Jim and Annette moved back to California so that Jim could begin graduate studies in environmental science, with the goal of obtaining a doctoral degree. The young family lived in married student housing on the UC Berkeley campus, where Jim, with his short hair, button-down shirts, and chinos, undoubtedly stood out as a “square” during the psychedelic cultural revolution exploding in Berkeley at that time. In 1966, Jim received a Master of Science degree in Environmental Health Sciences from UC Berkeley. Although Jim had originally intended to complete a doctorate, life has a way of changing plans and the fact that his wife was pregnant with their second child convinced him it was time to leave school and get a job. He said goodbye to his parents and brother, moved to his wife’s home state, and accepted a job with the RI Department of Health. Shortly after his second daughter, Tamara, was born, Jim moved to the RI Department of Environmental Management (DEM) where he could combine his education in environmental science and civil engineering with his deep regard for the natural world. Daughter, Alyson, and a son, Jason came along solidifying his ties to Rhode Island for the rest of his life. Jim worked for the state of RI for over 30 years and was respected for his integrity by the local governments and state officials with whom he worked. He first joined DEM as a civil engineer, but moved up through the ranks, ultimately retiring in 1998 as the Assistant Director of Regulation. He began his career collecting water samples from around the state to determine whether people could swim and harvest shellfish safely. Later, he worked with the EPA to sponsor a state program for construction grants. As a result of his work, many RI cities and towns received construction grants to improve their wastewater treatment facilities, leading to better water quality throughout Rhode Island. While working at DEM, Jim met Sara (Maxson) Keegan, who would become his second wife. For his whole career, and through a changing political landscape, he remained committed to the cause of cleaning up Narragansett Bay so that all Rhode Island residents could safely enjoy the natural beauty of our state. After his retirement, Jim developed a passion for technology. He taught himself how to build and repair computers and became the family tech wizard. When his daughter Alyson discovered a bunch of defunct computers stashed in the closet of her classroom, it was Dad who replaced parts and updated the software so her students could use them again. With his interest in computers came a newfound love of computer games. Jim’s favorite part of the day was when he could retreat to his computer room and play games on his PC. How many grandkids today can say they played Call of Duty and Fallout with their 80 year-old grandfather? Jim passed on his parents’ belief in the power of a college education, and all four of his children went to college. Three of them even became teachers themselves: the eldest, René Bertha Fester, teaches biology at Everett Community College in Washington State. His second daughter, Tamara Juliet Carty teaches English at Smithfield High school. His third daughter and “mini-me,” Alyson Gloria Falk, is a special education teacher for the Providence School Department. His youngest, Jason William Fester, is a printer who also runs a small independent toy store. Jim once said, “While my father did not go out of his way with compliments, my mother said many times how proud dad was of my brother and I graduating from college. This is the same pride I feel in my children’s accomplishments.” Jim is survived by his wife of 38 years, Sara Maxson Fester (Warwick, RI), his four children, René Bertha Fester (Lake Stevens, WA), Tamara Juliet Carty (Warwick, RI), Alyson Gloria Falk (Warwick, RI), and Jason William Fester (Lake Stevens, WA), and two step-children, Christopher John Keegan (Australia) and Kimberly Constance Keegan (Warwick, RI). He loved and helped care for his eight grandchildren, Shea Kathryn Mitchell, Bronwyn René Carty, Hueston Thomas Kratz, Dashiel Hemingway Kratz, Trevor Kalo Falk, Aliya Jadyn Falk, Gavin William Fester, and Braelyn-Qwynn Elizabeth Caputo. His grandchildren remember how he always supported them and went to every dance recital, swim meet, little league game, soccer game, and graduation. Though officially retired, he was kept busy picking up grandkids after school, making them snacks, throwing Wiffle ball pitches in the backyard, and “telling the best stories.”  Jim will also be missed by his brother and best friend, Thomas Irvin Fester, who looks forward to the day when the brothers “will ride again” into new adventures. In lieu of flowers, we would welcome donations in Jim’s name to Narragansett Bay Save the Bay at https://www.savebay.org/get-involved/donate/. For information and condolences, please visit TheQuinnFuneralHome.com