The entire outdoor industry reeled in shock last week at the passing of 37-year-old James "J." Guthrie. A well-traveled outdoor writer and one-time NRA Publications employee, Guthrie was well known—and loved—throughout the industry for his enthusiasm, knowledge and vigor.
Guthrie had many friends in his industry of choice. We've collected the thoughts of a handful of them below, to pay tribute to a man that was taken from the world far too soon.
From Jeff Johnston, American Hunter Managing Editor:
On the evening of April 11, 2013, I gathered with a group of my best friends on the wrap-around porch of an old Oklahoma bunkhouse, telling stories and preparing for the turkey hunt that was to come with sunrise. There were five of us, but a sixth was clearly missing. James Guthrie’s name came up, and for an hour before we turned in, we knee-slapped telling “Guthrie Stories.”
Sunrise delivered the best sound in the world—the gobbles of roosted turkeys—but also one of the worst when a cracking voice on the other end of my cell phone informed me that Guthrie would never hunt again, at least not with us on Earth. James “J.” Guthrie of Eatonton, Ga., the voice said, had died in his sleep while at home with his wife, Jennifer, and two fresh-faced children, Caroline and Will.
Amid the shock induced by losing a great friend who was only 37 with no known health problems, I immediately thought of the irony that existed in our stories told about him mere hours before. We’d toasted a drink to him, thinking him alive and well; we even threatened to call and wake him. But as days passed and rational thought replaced denial, I realized there was nothing ironic or coincidental about telling “Guthrie Stories” in hunting camp or anywhere else. In fact, I don’t believe I’ve ever been to a camp or gathering with mutual friends where his name didn’t surface, followed by smiles. One-of-a-kind has become cliché, but for the first time in his life “cliché” will have to describe James Guthrie, because there is no better way. He had that electric “it” only a few possess, and it drew people like a magnet. If you wished to find the happening place, just find Guthrie. He’d be there in the middle, telling jokes between spins with the cutest girls on the dance floor. Guys off to the side would mumble, “Who’s that?” while guys who knew him would proclaim, “That’s Guthrie!”
I first met the outspoken Georgia boy on the phone during his official interview with the American Hunter staff. He was polite in his Southern demeanor, extremely knowledgeable, yet had an air of confidence.
Amid talking guns and publishing skills, the at-the-time single guy asked me in a drawl as thick as gumbo, “So, what’s the situation like up in D.C?”
“Not very bright if you keep up that over-the-top accent,” I said.
I had come from Oklahoma and learned the hard way that city folks in D.C. can be quick to label you an uneducated redneck if you speak with a drawl. But man, did Guthrie show me. He swaggered into NRA offices just like he owned the place, wearing Carhartts, work boots, a plaid button-up shirt and, only to conform to the NRA’s conservative dress code, one of two of his ties. This uniform never changed. I learned quickly that I couldn’t compete with Guthrie in many things, including military history, dancing, social skills or Southern charm that he backed up with wit, intelligence and common sense. Perhaps for a while I was jealous, but that soon turned to envy as Guthrie and I became friends. I was merely one of thousands. Guthrie formed relationships in minutes that take most folks months or years to cultivate. Guthrie was Mr. Popular.
Foremost, Guthrie was a husband and father. He was also a Christian. I never saw him eat a meal without briefly bowing his head and thanking his lord. I never heard him talk about or push his faith, but it was there. He was also a damn good shot. James grew up hunting and shooting—he could shoot a rifle or most anything better than most of us. His Glock, Surefire flashlight and pocketknife might well have been permanently attached to him. As was his ink pen.
Guthrie was a writer by trade. He’d worked for the Quality Deer Management Association before joining the American Hunter staff in 2003 as Associate Editor; then he became Executive Editor of the NRA’s new tactical magazine, Shooting Illustrated, based on his technical gun knowledge. Soon, however, Guthrie became in high-demand, and he realized he could do well in the freelance writing world (a tough endeavor for less talented men). Soon that led to television, as predicted, when outdoor show producers met him. While in the D.C. area, J met his future wife, Jennifer, who was from his beloved Georgia. Not long afterward, the pair landed back down south, Guthrie freelancing for nearly every outdoor magazine in the country, Jennifer attending med school. They began working on a family.
Guthrie loved good bird dogs, books, American war veterans and practical jokes. One time while at the NRA, an excited new hire named Kyle Wintersteen was called down by Guthrie to check out an old 1911 pistol that had arrived to be photographed. Doing what he was taught, Wintersteen took the gun and pulled the slide back to check to see if it was loaded, and thereby fell into the trap when the slide became jammed. “What the—what are you doing?” Guthrie exclaimed. “That is Joe Foss’ Nineteen-freaking-Eleven. You shouldn’t even be handling it without white gloves! My gosh, have you broken it?” Wintersteen became sheet white with fear of being terminated for his error—until Guthrie popped the joke. And there were plenty more. But he was also a mentor to some, including me, and would get serious when the need arose. Although he only knew NRA employee and Navy veteran John Howard for a couple years while he was a co-worker, Guthrie made it a point to call him every year on Veterans Day. No doubt, the Guthries had a large phone bill come September.
Two days after he died I saw a lady of Korean descent whom I know. She asked if I knew Guthrie. I told her I did, and she offered her condolences and surprised me when she said she was also very upset about his passing. Turns out, Guthrie had helped her son learn English. No one knew it, but Guthrie had not only helped the middle-schooler get good marks but, according to his mother, also helped instill in the youngster some of his own social skills. The kid finished top of his class.
I could go on and on about James Guthrie, but the bottom line is this: The world is not as good without him. And through a tear-soaked facemask, I continued my turkey hunt, however insignificant, because I know that’s what my friend would have wanted. He was a lot of things to a lot of people, but to me he was a great hunting buddy.
Guthrie, there will always be a place on the porch for you to tell stories. We all just hope someone up there is writing them down.
From Kyle Wintersteen, NRA Publications Contributor:
Not three hours had passed on my first day of employment at American Hunter when J. Guthrie strolled through the door. Immediately I knew I was dealing with a human being of unique character and disposition. His southern drawl was thick, and the further he launched into each story, the thicker it became. He wore a tie—per NRA’s strict dress code—but he also donned a camo hat, a fashion statement no doubt symptomatic of his rebel spirit.
Though the subject of my Yankee ancestry arose early in our conversation, Guthrie invited me to lunch anyhow. The restaurant was a little barbecue joint and, perhaps inspired by my new colleague from Georgia, I ordered the southern barbecue platter with a sweet potato and sweet tea.
“Why haaaail, Wintersteen, pretty soon we’ll have you pronouncing all four E’s in sheeeeit,” Guthrie said with his big, good ol' boy grin.
I liked “J” immediately, and many of the best stories from my twenties involve him. There are some I can share. Others that are fit only for certain audiences. And a few that will remain between Guthrie and I forever. Of the former, I find that I’m most often asked to retell the stories of Guthrie’s workplace pranks.
A personal favorite began at a time when his prowess in this regard was still unbeknownst to me. I walked into his office and spotted an old, obviously reblued 1911 .45 on the desk. I suppose that would be odd in a typical business environment. Guthrie remained engrossed in his work.
Curious, I approached the pistol and did what any safe gun handler would do: I pulled back the slide to inspect the chamber. It immediately locked into place and would not return forward despite my vigorous effort to force it so.
“What the—what are you doing?” Guthrie exclaimed. “That is Joe Foss’ Nineteen-a-freaking-Leven. You shouldn’t even be handling it without white gloves! My gosh, have you broken it?”
Guthrie escorted me to the deputy director so I could explain how I’d so defiled the pistol of an American war hero and former NRA president. Unlike Guthrie, she only held her composure a few moments before busting out in laughter. Turns out the 1911 was merely an old gun with a bad spring that would lock into place every time it was pulled back. Guthrie had set a trap for me and executed it perfectly.
Which brings me to Guthrie story No. 2. Once upon a time, J. burst into my bedroom and obtained a semi-nude photo of me without my permission. Occasionally I would worry about how the photo may come back to haunt me, until one morning Guthrie called my office phone and said he’d posted it on the bulletin board.
“Ha-ha, shut up Guthrie,” I said hanging up.
Then a steady string of female coworkers called claiming to have seen it. Still, I knew it was a prank. Not even Guthrie would have dared. However, I then received a call from a good church-going coworker named Robert. He didn’t drink. He didn’t cuss. He didn’t lie—except apparently under the charm of one J. Guthrie.
“It’s true,” Robert said. “I can’t believe he did that to you.”
I stormed down the hall, furious. I didn’t care if I was fired—I was going to punch J. Guthrie directly in the face. He saw it in my eyes, too.
“It was a joke! It was a joke!” he wailed, frantically waiving those long, skinny arms. “I didn’t post it, I swear!”
I laughed. He laughed. And, in different ways, we were both relieved.
Guthrie was a fine person and a great friend. I will miss him dearly.
From Keith Wood, NRA Publications Contributor:
“Hey man! I’m new here, my name’s Guthrie—good to meet you!”
A big smile, eye contact, and a firm handshake; it was my first taste of home since I’d moved to Fairfax the week before. James Guthrie and I started at NRA HQ the same week back in 2003. He was working as an editor for American Hunter and I was a newly minted state lobbyist in ILA. I was just adapting to the fact that people in the DC suburbs weren’t as openly friendly as they were back home when Guthrie reminded me that you can take a boy out of the country, slap a tie on him and make him sit in traffic, but he’s still a country boy. That was Guthrie, a guy that never met a stranger, never cared what anyone thought, and always told it like it was. He’d buy you a beer when you looked thirsty, and make you laugh no matter how bad your day was. I mean it as a compliment when I say he wasn’t a serious guy, but he was serious about the things that mattered to him—his family, his craft.
Those were fun years for those of us who were in our 20s, both inside and outside of the office. A few years later, we all went our separate ways, both geographically and career-wise. When Guthrie became a freelance writer I didn’t see him as much, and we weren’t close enough friends to call one another. Every time I saw him over the last few years, I’d see that big smile, get that firm handshake, and I was right back where I’d seen him last. A good ‘ole boy’s good ole’ boy, Guthrie was the kind of man that you had to know to appreciate but you got to know him fast. The last time I saw him, he paid me a big compliment and told me to keep writing. He looked both ways before leaning in and telling me what he thought of some of the hacks in the business. The last time I heard from him was when he sent a text, checking-up on another friend of ours who'd suffered a heart attack.
When I read the news that he’d left us, I was as shocked as everyone else. We are about the same age, but that smile and attitude made him seem far younger than his 37 years. My friend Jeff Johnston put it best “dammit, Guthrie was special”. Walking around SHOT or the NRA Annual Meetings, knowing that I’ll never run into that beaming face again is a loss. Lots of guys in the industry have left us lately but Guthrie was the only one of them I really knew—because everyone who met him knew him.