When Jim DeVinney purchased his house on Glasgow Street and moved in, it felt as though he had lived here for years. Immediately he immersed himself in neighborhood events and activities, and we all soon got to know this man with the sonorous baritone voice.
Jim arrived with a previously impressive PBS career here at WXXI and in Boston. His documentary film Eyes on the Prize, which told the story of America’s civil rights struggle, had earned him two television Emmy Awards for documentary writing and an Academy Award nomination! Shortly after becoming a Cornhiller, the Corn Hill Neighbors Association announced it was looking for someone to fill the position of historian. Jim seemed perfect, and he accepted with enthusiasm, stating that this was a role he’d be loathed to relinquish.
As CHNA historian, Jim began leading neighborhood history tours of our 10 Historic Passport sites, introducing hundreds of visitors to Corn Hill, Rochester’s oldest residential neighborhood. He soon began to devise other tours of his own making, but I believe none was more important to Jim than his “Memories of a New Year’s Day” tour that he led following Christmas. Jim researched and wrote a delightful script about actual 19th-century Third Warders and their quirky New Year’s Day traditions, which he fleshed out with actors and singers portraying these colorful characters. All of us who participated in Jim’s tours felt we’d been part of something very special.
Jim continued his neighborhood involvement by serving on the CHNA board of directors and on the Holiday Tour of Homes Committee, where he researched the history of tour houses for homeowners willing to open their homes. He represented our neighborhood on the city’s preservation board. When the position of Gazette editor became available, he accepted that role and began a wonderful series of history articles that have continued to enlighten us about Corn Hill and the City of Rochester as well. When speaking of his research, Jim’s eyes would light up. One got the feeling that he enjoyed researching even more than the writing it produced. Fortunately, much of Jim’s writing can still be accessed in After Thoughts. Jim had been a fan and friend of neighborhood photographer Janet Mlinar, and, after her death, he acquired her cameras and continued her legacy by photographing as many neighborhood events as possible.
We also got to know Jim DeVinney as an avid softball participant, as well as a devoted father, grandfather, and great-grandfather. It was devastating when neighbors learned of his battle with an aggressive cancer diagnosis. Although Jim told us he’d only been given weeks to live, his death nonetheless took us by surprise. Jim will truly be missed and mourned, but not forgotten. The label “Gentleman and Scholar” seems tailor-made for him. Jim DeVinney—a Gentleman and a Scholar!
A celebration of Jim’s life will be held on Saturday, October 9th, from 2-4 pm at the Hervey-Ely House 138 Troup Street, Rochester 14608. In lieu of flowers, Jim asked that you support fine arts with your presence as well as your presents. Go to a play, attend a concert, visit an art gallery. Take a young person with you.
James A. DeVinney (Jim, Dad, Grandpa Jim, and Papa Jim) died on Saturday, September 11, 2021 in Rochester, New York. A native of Fort Wayne, Indiana, Jim loved the states he lived in so much he chose to live in most of those places twice. A former resident of State College, Pennsylvania, Rochester, Pittsburgh, Boston, then Fort Wayne and Rochester again, Jim loved to plunge into those cities and make them his own.
Jim cherished his role as the Corn Hill Historian, loved playing softball, and was an active member in a number of local arts organizations. He was proud of his lifelong career in public television beginning with his employment at WPSX (now WPSU) on the campus of Penn State University, where he earned a degree in liberal arts, an educational pursuit for which he advocated his entire life.
Jim worked at WXXI in Rochester, WQED in Pittsburgh, Blackside, Inc. and WGBH in Boston. He earned four Emmy Awards for his work on Once Upon a Classic, Eyes on the Prize I and II, and The Kennedys. He loved music and shared that with his children, introducing them to the Beatles, Gilbert and Sullivan, and numerous jazz artists.
Although himself an only child, Jim leaves behind a large and noisy family who inherited his dashing good looks, charming personality, and the gift of gab. Jim is survived by daughters Michele (Michael Kaufmann), Mimi, Tara Torrance (Jim), and son Rob. He was grandfather to nine – granddaughters Shannon, Andrea, Samantha, Kaleigh, and Bridget, and grandsons Alex, Jordan, Jameson, and Jesse. He was also a great-grandfather to Lucie, Gatsby, and Imogen. Jim was a very proud Irish-American, enjoying relationships with his “Irish cousins” and establishing dual citizenship which, he was quick to point out to his children, was not an available option for them.