A good man gone too soon

By Christopher Harper 

I lost a former colleague and good friend last week. 

Jim Sicile worked as a cameraman for many news outlets, particularly ABC, covering many of the most significant national and international events over the past 30 years. See https://www.yahoo.com/gma/abc-news-photographer-jim-sicile-175104719.html 

Jim started in the ABC News mailroom at the age of 18 and worked his way up to become a well-respected cameraman. He covered everything from the World Trade Center attacks and Hurricane Katrina to the Haiti earthquake and the Olympics. He interviewed world leaders and covered every president from Nixon to Biden, which was his final assignment that stopped abruptly because of illness. 

Jim was compassionate. At his funeral, ABC news anchor John Quinones recalled how Jim called one time about an ethical question. Jim had interviewed a man who had lost his job and his home because of the pandemic. Jim took some cash out of his wallet and handed the man the money. 

A bit later, Jim called Quinones to ensure he hadn’t violated some network rule to give the man the cash.  

I worked with Jim for nearly a decade at 20/20. In fact, he was there for my first segment for the broadcast in 1986. The shoot had been complicated, involving a helicopter, a speedboat, and an ill reporter. 

In the end, Jim, a bona fide foodie, remarked on only one facet of the seven-day extravaganza. He loved the huevos rancheros at a nearby San Diego diner! 

His taste buds became renowned. For example, he created a line of hot pepper sauces. Moreover, the prayer card at Jim’s funeral included a background of his famed peppers.

His family organized a bevy of food trucks from jerk barbeque to crepes for a “celebration of his life” after the funeral. A rock ‘n’ roll band played Jim’s favorites from Elton John and Billy Joel.  

But there’s also a maddening part of Jim’s death. During the pandemic, his doctors focused on COVID-19 and misdiagnosed his illness. During several conversations with Jim, an incredibly patient man, he told me about his frustration with his doctors.  

It turned out that Jim, who had never smoked, did not have COVID. Instead, he had lung cancer. It is unclear whether the several months of misdiagnosis would have made any difference, but I bet it would have given Jim some more time.  

Before he died, Jim told his family and friends: “People say I am stronger than the cancer. The cancer didn’t take my sense of humor from me, I am still a good husband and a good father and friend. In those ways, yes, I am stronger. The cancer did not win.”

At 66, a good man was gone much too soon!