Jim Elmer Remembered
Jim Elmer, Layne Staley’s stepfather, passed away in his home in Long Beach, Washington last week from heart failure, according to his son Ken. He was 72 years old.
He was born in Spokane, Washington on March 28th, 1945 at home, but spent most of his life in the Seattle area. Jim had Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in business and spent much of his professional career in the banking and appraisal industry. He also served in the army including being stationed in Germany in the late 1960’s, where his son Ken was born. He was married at that time to Wanda Wilson, and was later divorced in 1972.
He met the then-Nancy Staley after being introduced by a mutual friend at an office Christmas party in 1974. They were both working at the same bank at the time, where he was an appraiser and she was working as part of a public relations campaign. Asked if his initial reaction was love at first sight, he responded, “I don’t know if it was that, it was certainly interesting, I certainly took notice.”
Jim and Nancy would marry a few months later and form a blended family that included his son Ken and Layne’s sister Liz. Youngest daughter Jamie was born a few years later. He recalled the first time meeting Nancy’s children saying, “I met them at Nancy’s mom’s house, over in Bellevue one evening. We were going to go out, and the kids were there and at that age, they’re just real delightful and so forth, and nothing spectacular happened, but that’s when I first met them.”
When asked about the new family dynamic, Jim said, “We kept our visitation up with Ken, so when he was over at our house, we all made sure that the kids got to see each other and we’d do family things and that sort of thing, so there was a lot of interaction with Ken at that same time. And so we made a conscious effort to do family things to and be a family and not try to split kids up.”
“I think they became reasonably close. You’ve got three little kids. You’re always going to have some type of dynamic and so forth. But by and large, we did things with the three of them and kept everybody involved.”
Though Layne’s serious interest in music wouldn’t develop until a few years later, it was Jim who took Layne to his first concert in October of 1975: Elton John at the Seattle Center Coliseum. Layne had just turned eight a few months earlier. “I’m an Elton fan, and so I don’t know what precipitated that, other than he was coming and I wanted to go,” he recalled. “And so I’m not sure what started it with Layne, but it seemed like the right thing to do and he seemed to enjoy it.”
A few years later, he took Layne – who was in junior high school at the time – and some friends to see Van Halen, a band Layne would later tour with in Alice in Chains. As he recalled the show, “We were down in the general seating area. We didn’t have real seats, so we were down kind-of in that mosh pit area, and so when things started, I got off to the side and the two neighbor boys and Layne were all about the same age, so they stayed down there and I can remember I stayed down there with them for just a little bit.”
“Even in those days, I was the oldest person down there, but some gal came up with her boyfriend, and she says, ‘You know, you’re really brave being down here,’ and I took that as a compliment, because I mean, it was action packed. I mean, it was just a great concert, so I think they stayed down there the whole thing, the whole time.”
Once he became more serious about pursuing music as a career, Jim and Nancy never discouraged him from his career choice in favor of a more traditional path, like going to college and becoming a lawyer or an accountant. Not long after Layne first met Jerry Cantrell and Alice in Chains was probably in its infancy, he invited Jerry to spend Christmas of 1987 with him and his family – the first since his mother’s death the previous April. As Jim recalled, “I just remember that Layne had – it was his friend Jerry, and he was kind-of homeless, didn’t have a family, and so we started talking, ‘Can Jerry come over here and have Christmas with us,’ and so forth, and we made sure that Jerry had some gifts and some clothes, because he didn’t have a whole lot, so we bought him an Army coat and a couple of other things that were kind-of trendy at the time, and Layne got that, as well.” After Alice in Chains became successful, Jim traveled with Layne and the band for a few days during the Lollapalooza 1993 tour.
Jim was also there with Nancy when Layne’s body was discovered in his Seattle condo in April of 2002. He would later recall his comments at Layne’s memorial service, saying, “I had made comments to the effect that if there was one thing to remember Layne by it was his courage to be himself, and he was no phony. That was the word that I typically thought of, of Layne, not as a little child—I mean, as a little child, he had courage. As he grew up, he knew what he wanted to do somewhat, but he had the courage to go for it, and that was my word of the day; that’s how I’ll always remember him.”
According to his family, Jim was an exceptional amateur photographer, and he had a deep heart for underprivileged children. But his real passion was running. He completed many marathons across the globe during his lifetime. Up until his death, he was running 30 to 40 miles per week, and was planning to participate in a hard sand marathon to hopefully take place this fall in Long Beach, Washington.
Plans for a memorial service are pending.
Official Family Statement:
James (Jim) Kenneth Elmer passed away last week (the week of June 25th) at his home in Long Beach, WA. He left us peacefully, as it appears he passed away in his sleep at the age of 72. Jim was an avid runner and deeply engrained in the community of Long Beach, and well-loved wherever he went. He had a big heart for people, travel and photography, and a deep love for charities and organizations benefiting underprivileged children.
Jim is survived by three of his children – Ken Elmer in Charlotte, NC; Liz Coats in Seattle, WA; and Jamie Elmer in Colorado. He outlived his oldest son Layne Staley, who passed away in 2002. Also, he has a brother Robert Elmer who lives in the Seattle area. Jim also had many grandchildren, including Liz’s two sons and Ken’s four children.
A memorial service has not been planned at this time, but the family is looking to have a gathering later this summer to celebrate his wonderful life.
Send any questions or comments to Ken Elmer at [email protected] Thank you.
Jim was our friend and neighbor here in Long Beach for many years. He lived at the condominium where my girlfriend Debbie worked the front desk, and he came into the lobby each day for coffee. He was a good guy with a kind heart, and I never heard him say a bad thing about anybody. He clearly loved Layne and was proud of his talent and success. One of my fondest memories of Jim was in the summer of 2015 when I spent a week in the hospital in Astoria, Oregon, after I had knee replacement surgery. One day Jim came in and he brought in a copy of your Alice in Chains book. Both you and he had signed it, and he gave it to me as a gift. We were so shocked when Jim passed, and we both miss him to this day. Thank you for writing this tribute to him.