CHEYENNE – His mission was to keep kids warm, one coat at a time.
Jim Lynch, a former Cheyenne City Council member, longtime volunteer for Cheyenne Frontier Days and coordinator of the Coats for Kids program, died on April 27. He was 77.
Lynch was born April 6, 1942, in Boston to Kathleen and James B. Lynch. He grew up in South Boston with his brothers, Dennis and Dan.
After graduating from high school, Lynch joined the U.S. Navy and taught philosophy at the collegiate level. He also became the youngest Greyhound bus driver in the country.
Lynch started a career in law enforcement after traveling to Georgia, then became a long-haul truck driver.
Lynch married the love of his life, Felicity, in 1978. Over the next several years, the couple had two children, Jimmy and Kathleen, and in 1983, the family moved to Felicity’s hometown of Cheyenne.
Lynch welcomed his sidekick and daughter, Josephine Carlson, in 1987.
“He was a larger-than-life kind of guy,” Carlson said. “You can’t misplace him, and you can’t forget him.”
Lynch made Cheyenne his home for 35 years, where he volunteered for numerous organizations, served as personal photographer to Gov. Mike Sullivan and sat on the Cheyenne City Council from 1994-99.
Growing up, Carlson said her father would take her to all the places where he worked or volunteered.
“I thought it was normal,” she said. “I thought all parents did that kind of stuff.”
He also gave “to the point of insanity,” she said.
“I thought it was normal that I would come home and my toys would be gone because he donated them somewhere,” Carlson said. “I’d ask, ‘Where’s my stuff?’ and my dad would say, ‘Those kids ... their mom started a new job and her husband left, so they needed them more than you.’”
Lynch worked many years as a computer program specialist, and through his role as a photographer on the Public Relations Committee with Cheyenne Frontier Days, he was able to make a longtime dream come true – Coats for Kids.
Growing up poor in Boston, Carlson said her father was subject and witness to not only the cruelty of northeastern cold winters, but also a classmate’s heckling for wearing a coat that a classmate’s mother donated to charity.
“He knew it was a hand-me-down, and (his mother) tried to pass it off as something new,” Carlson said. “He wore it to school one day, and a kid two grades ahead of him said, ‘Nice coat, Lynch. My mom donated that. That’s my old coat.’ He started making fun of him like, ‘Your mom can’t get you your own clothes. How do my clothes feel?’”
That memory, Carlson said, stuck with her father for the rest of his life, and he would ultimately make it a mission to offer free coats for kids.
Terry Ruiz, owner of One Hour Cleaners, teamed up with Lynch for the Coats for Kids program. He said Lynch’s generosity was not limited just to giving away coats.
“Jim had the biggest heart in the world,” Ruiz said. “He worked at a computer store. Somebody needed a laptop and he heard about it – the next thing you know, they got a laptop for a kid in high school. He was that kind of guy.”
Lisa Murphy, who works for the Laramie County Community College Foundation, recalled working with Lynch on the CFD Public Relations Committee. Lynch always made people feel welcome, she said.
“He would make coins for our committee and hand them out to people to let them feel included,” Murphy said. “He was one who was jovial and genuine. He’s going to be greatly missed.”
The Coats for Kids program is all about warmth, Murphy said, but Lynch also “made people on the committee and people in the community feel that warmth, whether he was playing Santa, giving people coats or helping people in the community feel his kindness.”
Lynch spoke to the Wyoming Tribune Eagle about the program’s evolution in a 2014 interview.
“The first year, we had all used coats, but as things progressed, people started donating new stuff, and we went from there,” Lynch said. “Now, it’s 80% new. We’ve got about 600 brand-new coats on our property.”
In the interview, Lynch also relayed the story of a woman who came in and started rummaging through her purse to get her tax return to prove she had six kids.
“We don’t care; you need six coats, go ahead and take six coats,” Lynch said. “She left here with six brand-new coats, and she brought them back the next year, said, ‘My kids have outgrown these, can I trade them in?’ We traded them in for six more new coats, and because she didn’t have to buy six coats, that put more food on the table.”
Coats for Kids has given out more than 10,000 new coats to anyone who has needed one.
“The legacy Jim leaves behind is one of sharing and compassion,” Carlson said. “He was a man with a heart as big as his laugh, and will be greatly missed by countless people.”