Remembering Our Friend, James Luna
By: Liz Stanislawski
If you talk to anyone who has worked with James Luna during his tenure at Cumberland Heights, you’ll hear all kinds of anecdotes about his impact and personality. There is one theme you’ll hear over and over – that James was a no-nonsense kind of guy. In recovery, James often told people things they didn’t want to hear but needed to. It always came from a place of love.
James was Clinical Director of the Men’s Program for 19 years. As his obituary states “His own personal recovery, that spanned decades, was paralleled only by the love and energy he put into patients and friends alike struggling with alcohol and drug addictions. His life’s work will be remembered by the thousands he touched who are now, in turn, helping others themselves.”
Cumberland Heights Board Member Rob Crichton had this to say about James:
“I first met James Luna 31 years ago. James was quite a force at Friendship House. I suppose you could put him in the category of the ‘tough love’ type. Staying sober and participating in the program was top priority. He introduced me to a rather rough looking fellow in the coffee bar at 202 one afternoon and informed me I was going to be his sponsor. What an experience. James was emphatic to put it mildly. He also called it like he saw it in the meetings, not cross talking, but he always let you know where he stood. I admired his AA orthodoxy especially in a meeting.”
Many years later I became reacquainted with James after he became employed at Cumberland Heights, but something had changed. James was much more mellow. The rough edges seemed to have smoothed out. I cannot tell you how this happened. Perhaps it was his marriage to Dawn or being in the Cumberland environment, but he had transformed into a much gentler person. We worked on two projects together at Cumberland Heights and I felt totally comfortable around him. It felt like we were beginning to be friends.
“One thing is for certain in my experience – James Luna was always a good man regardless what chapter of life he was in.”
Vivian Jo Bell, who works in Medical Records said, “I found him to be direct, honest, grateful and compassionate. My favorite memory of James is 22 years ago. I was diagnosed with cancer. James Luna was the first person to come to me just to talk and offer prayers.”
Our Chief Clinical Officer Cinde Stewart Freeman had this to say about James:
“I met James during my first 60 days in recovery. I didn’t know how to talk to people and I was afraid this recovery thing wouldn’t work for me. James caught my attention in meetings because he spoke rarely, concisely, and always something that rang as true to me. During a day that I was really struggling, I got my nerve up and asked the $1,000,000 question. ‘James, how do you get faith?’ I think my voice was shaking; I know my hands still were. I thought he was going to give me a mystical and deeply theological answer that would change my world. He looked at me closely and then simply said, ‘Well, Cinde, you lived through things that you thought you couldn’t live through, and when you look back, you realize that God helped you. That’s how you get faith.’ At the time, it seemed too easy to be true and much too simple. As the years have gone by, James and I have had many conversations about God and the nature of spirituality. I learned so much wisdom from him. But I am not sure that anything he taught me was as powerful as that first simple truth – a truth that turned out to be mystical, deeply theological, and that did indeed change my world. Godspeed, my friend. I love you.”
James had a way with words, both spoken and on paper. You may be one of the millions who read his articles on Grapevine, AA’s monthly publication. And few could forget his goodbye letter to Cumberland Heights when he retired in 2012.
It read in part:
“To have been allowed a minor part in this unfolding passion play of God after his wounded and devastated children for the past 25 years has been, for me, nothing short of…words are often insufficient in this realm. Fortunately, God has languages that need no words.”
A Life Celebration will be held for James Saturday, Oct. 20 at 2:30 p.m. at Harpeth Hills Funeral Home and Cremation Center. A reception will follow at The Pavilion.
Learn more about James Luna’s life and legacy by reading his obituary.