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Appreciation: Jim Taaffe, 1938-2011 Los Altos Hills Pioneer

Bye-bye Jimmy. I wish you were still here.

A good man died last week and I am proud to say he was my friend. When I remember Jim Taaffe, I picture him smiling—a smile of friendliness, humor, kindness and courage. I’ll bet he smiled that smile in the face of whatever life threw at him.

His family says he was smiling as he lay dying of non-Hodgkins lymphoma. His wife Deanna and his daughters Candice, Natalie, and Linda—plus their families—spent his last days with him.

A few years after Jim retired, he and Deanna moved to Angles Camp, but before that he lived his entire life in Los Altos Hills, as had many generations of Taaffes before him. Taaffe Road? Yes, those Taaffes. Many roads in LAH and throughout Silicon Valley were named after members of the Taaffe-Murphy family (such as Taaffe Street and Murphy Avenue, the main street of historical downtown Sunnyvale).

Jim was descended from the Murphy family pioneers. And yes, the town of Murphys near Angels Camp is named after them.

From Wikipedia: The Stephens-Townsend-Murphy Party consisted of ten families who … were the first wagon train to cross the Sierra Nevada during the expansion of the American West. They pioneered the first route at or near Donner Pass in 1844. This was two years before the Donner Party and five years before the 1849 Gold Rush.

The Murphys bought a large tract of land from Juana Briones. Then, the way I heard the story, a Taaffe guy married a Murphy gal and as a wedding present they received 3,000 acres, most of the land that is Los Altos Hills today.

I live on an acre of what is left of the Taaffe Ranch. For more than two decades, Jim and Deanna were my friends, next-door-neighbors, and landlords. My husband and I rent the Craftsman-style bungalow in which Jim grew up and in which his parents lived until their deaths.

The bungalow at 12030 Elsie Way is still standing, but the lot is for sale and the bungalow is expected to be bulldozed. When Jim and his siblings grew up, they each built houses nearby on Purissima Road and operated M.J. Taaffe Company on the family property.

Jim’s sister-in-law Marion Taaffe still lives on Purissima, and her sons and daughters—Max, Martin Benjamin (Ben), Elisa, and Florence continue the family asphalt/construction business.

LAH resident Lee Ann Vojvoda has lived on Purissima all her life and considers the Taaffes family. When she was about 10, her dog, Gypsy, “got stuck in the culvert pipe and Marty, Jimmy, ZT and all of them dug up the street to get her out - she backed out because of all of the noise!”  

Jim and I often stopped to chat on the pathways while we were walking our dogs. He loved his dogs. While Hobo walked, Jim carried Shorty.

If you had been lucky enough to meet Jim, you never would have guessed he had a heritage to be proud of and had made a success of his life. He had an endearing humility, and he avoided ostentation.

He was one of those guys who gets up in the morning and goes to work, and he worked hard. When his brother Martin Jr. died suddenly of a heart attack, Jim had his own heart checked out and the doctor found that Jim had grown his own bypass artery. The doc said, “Probably there was a day when you stayed home from work not feeling well, and that was when you grew the extra artery.”

Deanna said, “That never happened—he never stayed home from work.”

The world could use some more hard-working, humble, honest, respectable, friendly, family guys like Jim Taaffe.

Bye-bye Jimmy. I wish you were still here.

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A memorial service is scheduled at 2 p.m., Saturday, Aug. 13 at Vallecito Union Church, 3780 Church St., Vallecito.

Donations can be made be made to Hospice of the Sierra, 20100 Cedar Road, N. Sonora, CA, 95370 or to the CHISPA Parlor #139, Native Sons of the Golden West, P.O. box 151, Murphys, CA, 95247.

See the Calaveras County article in the Pinetree.net about Jimmy Taaffe

About This Column: Each week Pam Walatka will explore sustainable life in Los Altos Hills. Contact Pam at pamwalatka@yahoo.com or see Pam Portugal Walatka Writings on FaceBook.

Carol Phy August 01, 2011 at 11:45 PM
Re: Jimmy Taaffe. I remember when, about 48 years ago we first met Marty and Jimmy Taaffe, we had called them to have some driveway paving done and when they rang the door bell both my husband and I came to the door and here were these two quite tall men and the taller of the two said "hi, I'm Marty and this is my little brother Jimmy". This endeared them both to us and from then on whenever we needed some grading or paving work done we always called upon them. One time we needed grading done for drainage in a fairly narrow section of our property by Adobe Creek, my husband told me when Jimmy showed up to call him home from work so he could watch. He thought Jimmy was an artist with a grader. I also remember the huge white feet in the middle of Purissima Rd., we all figured the Taaffe's were responsible, though do not believe they ever owned up to it. Probably had some left over white paint that fell out of their truck and took it from there. My husband also maintained, when they had the contract to fill pot holes in town, that they simply moved them from one side of the road to the other, as when he drove to work through the hills in the morning there would be a pot hole and by evening it would be gone but another showed up close by. Jimmy and Marty were town characters, good people who cared about the town, it's wild life and always honest and straight forward. RIP Jimmy Carol Phy
Carol Phy August 01, 2011 at 11:46 PM
See above---
Pam Walatka August 02, 2011 at 01:08 AM
Yes, Jimmy was an artist with a grader. In his spare time, he enjoyed using heavy equipment to make artist arrangements of boulders.

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