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The gates of heaven opened to welcome James Henry Duke (Jim) to his eternal home. He went peacefully October 15, 2023, in Pasadena, Texas, after a brief illness. At 91 years, he was blessed to still be active and independent.
Jim was born October 1, 1932, in Center, Texas, to parents Virgil and Clara Belle Smith Duke. He was the firstborn of three sons. He graduated from Lufkin High School in Lufkin, Texas, in 1949.
Jim met the love of his life, Betty Joan Holub, in Pasadena, Texas, where his parents were living in 1952. Jim’s mother played cupid, convincing Betty to meet her son on a blind date. To Betty’s surprise, she discovered that Clara had not exaggerated when she had described her son as “tall, dark, and handsome.” Clara failed to mention that Jim also had the bluest eyes.
Jim and Betty’s chemistry was immediate, their courtship short, their marriage long, and their love story extraordinary. They married December 31, 1953, and were separated by death just two months shy of what would have been their 70th wedding anniversary.
Jim belonged to a farm club of the Philadelphia Phillies when he was drafted into the US Army. He served his country stateside by playing baseball to entertain the troops during the Korean War from April, 1953, through January, 1955. Recruitment offers from semi-professional baseball teams followed. However, fatherhood took priority over pursuing a sports career.
Family was his pride and joy. He and Betty raised four children in the Freeway Manor and then Sagemont neighborhoods of Houston. Tari, Tom, Ted, and Tina were born within a five-year span. Over the next sixty years, the family grew to include 7 grandsons and 2 granddaughters, as well as 15 great-grandchildren. Jim and Betty have been active and nurturing role models in all their legacies’ lives.
Jim started working in the auto parts business while in high school in Lufkin. He moved to Houston, Texas, as a pre-law student at the University of Houston, when he took a consequential part-time job at the Fred Collins Company. The positive experience he gained from working for his mentor, Fred Collins, caused Jim to decide to change course from law to pursue a career in the auto parts business.
After working 16 years at Fred Collins Company and Central Parts Warehouse, he worked another 3 years as the sales manager at MountJoy Parts Company of Houston. Then he decided it was time to become his own boss.
Jim Duke and Wesley Thompson bought Bellfort Auto Supply in February, 1972. Jim became the sole owner in January, 1975. It turned into a family business when Betty retired from teaching to do the office work. Sons, Tom and Ted, managed operations. Jim’s motto was, “We sell service.” The business developed a reputation for making friends of clients by calling on customers and delivering a high standard of service.
Jim served as a member of the Board of Directors of three automotive organizations, the Houston Automotive Wholesalers, the Automotive Wholesalers of Texas, and the regional Southern Automotive Show.
He enjoyed his years of membership at Golfcrest Country Club and later at Magnolia Creek Golf Club. Jim and Betty were members of the University of Houston Cougars’ Cager Club, and especially active supporters during the 1980’s Phi Slama Jama days of Coach Guy Lewis.
An athlete all his life, Jim was a 4-handicap golfer. He enjoyed fishing, bowling, cards, and dominoes. His integrity was respected in both his professional and his personal life. His golf buddies understood that if they played with Jim Duke, they would play strictly by the rules of the game. Known for his strong character, his genuineness, and his outgoing personality, he developed a wide circle of friends throughout his life.
Jim was also a Christ-follower and faithful member of Faith Presbyterian Church in Pasadena, Texas.
After a fall that temporarily took away Betty’s mobility, Jim and Betty sold their home and moved into The Reserve at Pasadena in 2022. Rather than bemoan their loss of independence by the move into an assisted living community, Jim adapted with a determined and positive attitude. He quickly became the Ambassador of the Activity Department. He helped set up tables for events and assisted in transporting residents from their rooms to the activity room.
He welcomed new residents and led by example to ease their anxieties during a difficult life transition. He enthusiastically led residents in morning exercise classes and encouraged participation, which doubled the size of the class. He participated in Bible study, enjoyed playing dominoes, and was the go-to bartender for Happy Hour. Even in his final stage of life, Jim lived productively and purposefully, cheerfully serving others.
He will be remembered as a loving family man and a loyal, trusted, and generous friend in good times, and especially in bad. He was a Man’s Man.
Jim is survived by his beloved wife, Betty; his children Tari Dammel (Terry), Tom Duke (Linda), Ted Duke (Karen), and Tina Myrick (Mark). He will be remembered fondly by his grandchildren Carl Dammel, Chris Dammel (Liz); James Duke (Jen), Brian Duke (Kristen); Kevin Duke, Kelly O’Grady (Nathan); Stephen Myrick (Mandy), Shawn Myrick (Chelsea), and Kristin Myrick; and his 15 great-grandchildren. He is also survived by his sisters-in-law, Marilyn Goolsby and Ruth Duke, along with numerous nephews and nieces, as well as his brother from another mother, Paul Majors.
He was preceded in death by his parents, Virgil and Clara Duke, his brothers Virgil Wayne Duke and Smitty Duke; mother-in-law Columbia Holub, sisters-in-law Tommie Hinski and Carol Bratcher, and brother-in-law Tommy Bratcher.
For those who desire to make a love gift in Jim’s memory, the family suggests The Vickie Alvarez Street Ministries, PO Box 851, Bacliff, TX 77518, for the purchase of Bibles for the ministry.
A celebration of life will be held Saturday, October 28, 2023, at Faith Presbyterian Church located at 2301 S. Houston Rd., Pasadena, TX 77502. Visitation will be at 10:00 AM followed by the service at 11:00 AM.