A Tribute to KBOO Engineer & Programmer Jim Braun


I knew Jim Braun at KBOO for twenty years,  over which time I occasionally asked him to engineer a show for me.  He was always willing, and always  modest and self-effacing.  I only got to know Jim personally in the year before he died,  and I came to feel that he had taken a very bad lot in life--  being abandoned with his sister to a bleak orphanage, then losing his beloved sister when she died at an early age-- and turned it into sweet modesty and concern for his fellow beings.


The day before Jim died, he sent me a link to a video from 1944 of  three dancing, singing sisters, the Ross sisters,  performing a song called “Solid Potato Salad,”  and doing an uncannily limber, almost otherworldly triple-jointed dance.  The Ross sisters disappeared quietly into history,   but they left behind this video.   Jim has stepped quietly into history also, leaving  behind a sense of  ineffable sweetness with everyone who knew him.  When I got home after his memorial,  I thought over some of what I had learned about Jim from his many good friends who gathered and spoke, and quickly jotted the body of this rhyming poem.  The swiftness and the rhyme are both uncharacteristic for me-- I think Jim would be happy that in writing it I avoided what Billie Collins described as tying a poem to a chair with a rope and torturing a confession out of it. Perhaps I have been fortified by a helping of Jim’s solid potato salad.



Jim Braun Eats Potato Salad



with the Ross Sisters in Heaven



Mr. Engineer

straight as a bolt--

under his plain potato coat

a wild romantic


riding a boat

of the music he loved.

It carried him off

on a different sea--


Never indifferent,

it allowed him to be

a king and a pygmy

and a friend to all


who needed help when they

passed in the hall, or exchanged a word

that showed any spark, or might

be a flashlight in the dark.


Mr. Volunteer

humble as pie

to all appearance

a lonely guy


who hid his hipness

under layers of gray.


An artist in hiding--

when he passed away


friends  got together

and it became clear

that the help he provided

year after year--


the solid potato salad he gave-

was offered with a wish

that it could magically transform into

a different kind of dish,


The world  that he would like to see:

to dance while linking arms

tumbling with more joints than this world allows

and doing no one harm.






Jim Braun

Barbara, I just found your blog this morning, when I googled Uncle Jim's name, and I'm glad I did. This is beautiful. I'm glad you got to know Uncle Jim this past year. What a gift he was.

If I would have had the gumption to speak at Uncle Jim's lovely memorial, these are the things I would have said:

I have spent my whole life admiring Uncle Jim. Mom (his sister, Carol) told us that he was classified as a genius in his early gradeschool days and sent forward 2 grades. As kids, we were filled with awe by him, our own accessible family genius. My earliest memory of Uncle Jim was that every time he'd come over to our house, we'd all hound him to play "Uncle Jim's Boogie Woogie" on the piano, which was really  Meade Lux Lewis's "Honky Tonk Train." It was a piece that Uncle Jim loved as a kid. When he was a boy, he bought the 78 rpm recording of Mr. Lewis himself playing the piece, and went about learning to play it by ear.  It was a very complicated and demanding piece, sometimes requiring the player to hit more than 10 notes at a time! He mastered it and there was nothing better than watching him play it. I remember being hypnotized by his fast-moving, nimble fingers as he played. This was when I first realized my uncle was magic.

Listen for yourself:


Another gift he had was the ability to relate easily with people of all ages. This made him seem ageless to everyone. When he would come over to our house for an evening, he could have a fascinating conversation with my Catholic dad about Gregorian chant music, then turn around and have an equally interesting and respectful conversation with my teenage brothers about the Grateful Dead or Jimi Hendrix. And he did it all seamlessly. That was the thing about Uncle Jim. Even when we were small kids, he treated us respectfully, talked to us as if our opinions and ideas mattered and always wanted to hear about what was important to us at any given time. While most grownups in those days were eager to shoo kids out of the room with the thought that "children should be seen and not heard," Uncle Jim and Mom welcomed our input and always treated us like the we mattered, because of course, we all do.

Uncle Jim created a holiday for our family that we kids all loved. Like most good Catholic couples in the '50s, my parents had a slew of kids .... There were 6 of us, and Uncle Jim found it challenging to remember all of our birthdays, so he created Birthday Day. It would take place on June 25th of each year (halfway between Christmas and Christmas) and Uncle Jim would come bearing gifts for all 6 of us. Man, we couldn't wait for Birthday Day to roll around! He would bring the most interesting gifts, too. One year he gave us each clay ocarinas, wind instruments of different sizes. I had never seen or heard of one before. One year he gave me a book that I loved -- something like today's "non-coloring books" where you could draw and write in the book and it was all about using your imagination and drawing patterns and inventions and such.

When my mom died in 1980, it was completely unexpected. We were hit by a drunk driver and in an instant she was gone. Her passing affected everyone deeply because she was warm, loving, intelligent and beautiful in all ways. She was only 47 when she died. Her passing was horrible for all of us and now, I realize, it was devastating to Uncle Jim because she and he, without their parents most of the time, really raised each other. They were very close. Mom admired Uncle Jim as much as we did, and Uncle Jim was so proud of his sister. I was just 15 at that time, and Uncle Jim made an effort to stay in touch with me.

It was after I graduated from college, though, that Uncle Jim and I started spending more time together. We would occasionally meet for dinner and catch up with each other. He helped me track down his aunts, uncles and cousins in Germany so that I could take a trip there and see where his dad came from. I remember meeting him at Henry Theile's restaurant (where his dad  had worked decades prior) so I could show him all of the pictures from my Germany trip and show him his relatives across the sea. Uncle Jim always had great hole-in-the-wall restaurants he frequented, and he always got to know the owners and waiters. We met at Vietnamese, Greek, Lebanese, Thai and Mexican restaurants, and he always had favorite dishes to recommend. "Gee, this is ter-RI-fic!" was the phrase I heard so often when he was enjoying food that he loved.

He came to the hospital, all smiles, the day my son was born. He told me later that when I became a mother, I reminded him more and more of his sister.

My husband, son and I moved to Boise in 1998, and I hated that, mostly because it created a physical distance between U.J. and me. But what it did do was start a great tradition of phone calls between us. For the past 11 years, our phone conversations were rarely under an hour, sometimes approaching 2 hours, and they were about all kinds of things. One of us would call the other about some tidbit, and end up talking about movies, philosophy, politics, music, family history .... I can't tell you how much I learned and how much I loved our conversations.

I've spent a lifetime admiring Uncle Jim's brain power, musical abilities, humility and kindness, but it was only these past couple of years when his health started declining that he and I became very, very close. We'd never spent such concentrated time together as we did in the summer of 2008, after his first fall. He needed help with things around his home and yard, and needed to get rails and things installed in his house so he could continue living there. Those four or five days we spent together were one of the biggest blessings of my life. He told me things about my mom I'd never known. We had some great laughs and, as always, he continued to teach me things about a wide variety of topics. He let me in on his life to a degree I hadn't been let in before, including his emotional side. He could cry freely in my presence in the past year or so, a side of him I'd never seen before. He listened to me without any judgement when I shared with him my own personal struggles. He was always completely engaged, completely compassionate and empathetic and completely supportive. He was beautiful in all ways.

I've spent the past few weeks thinking about our relationship and how I could classify it. We were far closer than any uncle and niece I've ever known. Were we more like father/daughter? Our ages would make that seem like the right choice, but it wasn't. He had no expectations of me, held no judgements against me, wasn't stuck in his generation. He wasn't a father figure, though he was about my father's age. He was more like a brother or best friend. But at the same time, we weren't equals. He was so much more advanced in all ways than anyone I've ever known. I will spend the rest of my life thinking, "What would Uncle Jim do?," or "What would Uncle Jim think about this?" and trying to respond to life circumstances like he did, with curiosity, respect, grace, intellect, artfulness and a truly loving, humanitarian outlook.

There is no one else like him.


Your Uncle Jim

And what a lovely tribute you have written, Lori! I'm glad you found my words for him.  I wanted to post them to the Jim Braun tribute page,  but there's some malfunction going on with the present site (the site will change completely in the near future), and people can't post  except through blogs.  In the last few months of his life,  I had a number of lengthy conversations with Jim, and always felt enriched by them.  He faced his winding down towards dying in a steadfast and clear-eyed way.     I'm glad to know that he became finally able to cry with you. He was lucky to have you as a niece-- yes as a kind of  adopted daughter-- and you were lucky to have him as an uncle.  I know that as long as you live, he will be alive in your heart.  I won't forget him,  and perhaps will even get a chance to share some potato salad with him some day-- although I hope not too soon.



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