James Byron Armstrong will tell you that one thing can change a person’s life. For him, that moment came in 1969 when he was elected to the now defunct Terania Shire Council by just one vote.
Keen to accurately champion the needs of his new constituents, Jim needed a way to connect with them. “I decided to do something in every district, so I knew what the people wanted”, he says. Already playing table tennis at Dunoon, he took up bowls at Rosebank, and started attending euchre in the under croft at Clunes Anglican Church. It was at euchre that he met Doris Warburton, and in time Jim was invited to go dancing with her group of friends at the Casino RSM club. They married, both for the second time, in April 1974.
Jim’s only daughter from his first marriage had returned to Sydney with her mother, and Jim moved in with Doris at her Walker Street home. Now 94, Doris attended primary school at Clunes, and has given much of her life to serving the community, most notably as a member of the Clunes Hall committee. Although now suffering dementia, Doris still plays cards each week in the same room where she and Jim met over 40 years ago. “She still plays euchre pretty good”, beams Jim. “Gets mixed up with the bowers, but they all help her out a bit”.
Growing up in Dorroughby, originally known as Glen View, Jim first entered public life as a teenager when his father, James Osman Armstrong, asked him to represent the family at local meetings. Jim’s unwavering sense of public responsibility was fostered at a young age, seeing his father help build the Glen View Sunday School, now the Dorroughby Hall. Community spirit still oozes out his every pore, even at age 79. “I’m still trying to do my best to help our community and citizens”, he says with vigour.
These days Jim’s time is divided between caring for Doris and managing the Goonellabah Table Tennis Centre, where he still plays twice a week. For a man who has dedicated much of his life, and his own personal finances, to the game, he laughs when he recalls that when a friend first introduced him to the sport in the mid 1950s, he didn’t win a game for 3 months. In 1957 Jim helped form the Far North Coast Table Tennis Association, which brought together clubs from Rock Valley, Casino, Federal, Alstonville and everywhere in between. Each club took it in turns hosting team competition nights on their own turf. “They were fun nights, that was the best”, he says.
“Happiness is being thankful for small mercies. And I’ve had lots of them”, says Jim.
He recounts a particular accident in which he fell off macadamia machinery onto his head. “‘You shouldn’t be here’, the doctor said”. Jim subsequently sold his plantation at McLeans Ridges and used most of the money to build the table tennis centre at Goonellabah. Today that centre has international-standard tables and the actual floor used at the Sydney Olympics in 2000. Driven by a desire to see others enjoy the game as much as he does, Jim has also donated countless tables to schools and organisations in the Northern Rivers. He is quite serious about providing opportunities for others to have fun. “If you can’t help somebody what’s the bloody use of ya!”
Jim doesn’t appear to be hanging up his gloves while there’s still work to be done, and his enthusiasm is infectious. But Jim is realistic about how hectic everyone’s lives are today, and the many activities competing for time. To the list he adds computers and television. “I haven’t had the chance to watch that for months”, he says. Is it because he’s too busy? “Oh, God yeah”.