Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Jim Dorsett, 1929-2005

From the Roanoke Times, August 17, 2005
Long-time Christiansburg resident James H. Dorsett, died on August 14, 2005 after an extended illness. Jim, as he was known to family and friends, had three careers as minister, professor and publisher. Throughout his life Jim was committed to issues of social justice and social and community activism.

He is survived by two daughters, Meghan Helen Dorsett and Carol Lindstrom of Christiansburg; sister and brother-in-law, Jean and Robert Dodds of Amboy, Washington; sisters-in-law, Lois Dorsett of Wichita, Kansas, Cora Thiebaud of Covington, Washington, Peg Dorsett of San Francisco; stepsons, Frank and Robert White of North Carolina; and numerous nieces and nephews. Jim's family and friends will remember him fondly as a man who loved to read, to surf the internet, to tell stories, and to laugh.

Born September 24, 1929 in Jefferson City, Missouri and raised in Coalstrip, Montana, Jim received a BA in English from Wichita City College (now Wichita State University) in 1951. He married his college sweetheart, B. Helen Bennett, in 1953. The two shared a passion for railroad modeling, music and politics. Jim attended McCormick Seminary in Chicago and earned a bachelors degree in divinity in 1954. For the next several years Jim served as a minister and mediator for the Board of Missions to rural communities in Montana and Missouri. Jim had churches in Lewistown, Hilger, Whiplash, and Roy, Montana, and Otterville and Tipton, Missouri.

In 1963 the couple moved to Columbia, Missouri so that Jim could return to school; he received a masters and doctorate in sociology from the University of Missouri in 1969. Jim taught at Virginia Tech from 1969 until 1976, focusing on rural sociology and poverty, social theory, religion, and the history of social thought. Many of Jim's students remained in contact with him and continued to be inspired in their own careers and lives by his teaching and his example.

In 1976 Jim left the academy to form Dorsett Publications, an outgrowth of Jim and Helen's interest in scale modeling. In 1963 Jim and Helen had founded Dorsett Miniatures; in 1964, they published the first Cabinetmaker's Guide to Dollhouse Furniture, and in 1976 began publishing The Scale Cabinetmaker, which was published for twenty-two years, until Jim's retirement. Jim and Helen bought the Christiansburg Depot in 1983; their painstaking renovations allowed the Depot to be placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1986. They subsequently renovated the Lee Building in 1988 and opened the Cambria Emporium the next year.

In 1990, shortly after completion of these projects, Helen began a fierce struggle with cancer and died in August. Jim continued to publish TSC with the help of his daughter Meghan. In 1993 Jim's life was enriched when he married Mary Marye White. In 1996 Jim retired from Dorsett Publications and ceased publication of TSC; Jim and Mary enjoyed several more years together before her death in 2000.

Jim continued active in community affairs. He served on the board of directors of the New River Valley AIDS Coalition, was active in starting a local chapter of Habitat for Humanity, chaired the witness committee of the Christiansburg Presbyterian Church, and was a long-time member of the Democratic Party. Throughout his life, Jim was committed to anti-poverty and anti-war programs and to working for civil rights, including gay/lesbian rights.

A memorial service will be held at four o'clock Friday at the Christiansburg Presbyterian Church; a celebration of Jim's life will begin at 5:30 at the Christiansburg Depot. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that contributions be sent to Habitat for Humanity or Blue Ridge Public Television or that those interested in honoring Jim's memory devote five hours of their time to a community project of their choice. Online condolences may be sent by visiting www.hornefuneral

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