Absorbed in Opera

By Brooks Clark

A gift of Tosca tickets led to the Charles L. and Therese A. James Endowment

In his career in high-tech medical equipment sales, Chuck James spent his working weeks on the road, returning on weekends to his wife, Terry, and their home in Inverness, Illinois. On Saturdays, while he did paperwork and prepared for the following week, James listened to the Metropolitan Opera on Chicago’s WFMT. “It was his quiet time after a tough week,” remembers Terry, who was then a corporate buyer at UARCO Business Forms in nearby Barrington, Illinois. 

“I always enjoyed the Texaco Met Opera quiz at intermission led by quizmaster Edward Downs with panelists identifying operas from short snippets,” Chuck remembers.       

One day Terry mentioned to one of her suppliers that her husband listened to opera on Saturdays. The supplier had season tickets to the Lyric Opera of Chicago and offered her two tickets to Tosca. “It couldn’t have been a better opera for us to see,” says Terry.      

“We love both the music and the singing,” says James. “It was just the whole thing. To me it’s just mind blowing how you can put on a production with the singing, the orchestra, the acting. It was wonderful, marvelous. It just totally absorbed us.”   

The Jameses were hooked. They bought season subscriptions to the Lyric Opera for 15 years, enjoying Samuel Ramey in the title role in Mefistofele, Placido Domingo as Idomeneo in Idomeneo, Richard Leech as B.F. Pinkerton in Madame Butterfly, Bryn Terfel as Figaro in Le nozze di Figaro, and Renee Fleming as Alcina in Alcina. “The list goes on and on,” says Terry.       

Opera wasn’t a part of everyday life in the midwestern towns where Terry and James grew up. Born in Elgin, Illinois, in 1944, Terry grew up in nearby Fox River Grove, where her mom ran a gift shop and was the village clerk. Her dad was a handyman, electrician, and ran an appliance and repair shop. James, a year younger, was born and raised in Wyandotte, Michigan, on the Detroit River between Detroit and Lake Erie. His dad was a barber, and his mom worked as a receptionist at the YMCA.     

They met in 1972 when they both worked at UARCO. Terry was one of first women to break into the field of corporate buying, and James was in the credit department. They started dating after he left the company to pursue medical equipment sales, and they married in 1977. Terry eventually rose to supervise multimillion-dollar accounts for UARCO while James became a sales vice president for Transonic Systems Inc., a specialty company targeting open heart and neurosurgery technology.        

In 2004, James was traveling with one of his salespeople in Nashville, who said he had calls in Knoxville the following day. “I told him I would tag along because I had never been to Knoxville,” says James. “It was one of the few areas of the country I hadn’t seen. We were at the old Baptist Hospital standing in the Cardiac Lobby, and I was looking across the river at Calhoun’s and Neyland Stadium, and I thought, ‘What a nice town.’ Later that day we went to Blount Memorial in Maryville, then took a short trip to Townsend and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. That evening I called Terry and told her I found a place for us to retire.”   

When James was playing golf the following weekend in Illinois, a friend asked him where he had traveled the past week. “I said, ‘Knoxville,’ and he replied that someday he was going to retire to a place called Tellico Village.” Three months later Terry and James visited Tellico Village and bought a second home there. “My company didn’t care where I lived,” says James, “so within a year we moved to Tellico Village, where I worked another six years.”        

They had imagined they would satisfy their passion for opera with trips to Chicago or New York, but they were pleasantly surprised to discover that Knoxville had an opera company, with which they both became involved as volunteers. James joined the Knoxville Opera Guild board, became its president, and was then selected to be on the Knoxville Opera Board.       

During their 12 years of involvement with Knoxville Opera, they were exposed to the University of Tennessee’s opera program and enjoyed meeting many of the students, including Kevin Richard Doherty, his wife Sarah Fitch, and Brandon Gibson. When they and Kathyrn Frady-Marvel started the Marble City Opera company, James served on the board. He and Terry became friends with Frady-Marvel’s husband, Associate Professor and UT Opera Director James Marvel, as well as Professor of Voice Andy Wentzel, who has often gone fly fishing with James in the Smokies.      

In 2017, James was invited to the UT School of Music Advisory Board, which he now chairs. The couple’s love for opera and understanding of the importance of developing young talent led them to establish the Charles L. & Therese A. James Endowment for Opera at UT.       

“We feel that UT offers an excellent opera program,” says James, “and we are proud to be able to contribute to it. We encourage alumni and others to consider giving something to the School of Music. We are forming a new subgroup, Friends of Opera, to help with the financial needs of the UT Opera Theatre through yearly fund raising and setting up an endowment for the future. We appreciate everybody who can help out. Every little bit makes a difference.”