Generous even in death, Jim Pickett gave the gift of life to five strangers

In loving memory of James Michael Pickett, November 7, 1964 – July 1, 2018

heidi and Jim pickett family

Jim Pickett was passionate, kind, entrepreneurial, loyal, and spirited. He enjoyed good friends, great food, and lively conversation. But more than anything, he loved my sister, Heidi Hovland, tenderly, unconditionally, and with his whole heart. He loved his kids, Riordan, 12, and Lena, 15, in the same vein.

Such a force on this planet, we never imagined his life would be ripped from ours — from Heidi’s — so soon. Jim was 53 years old when he suffered a massive stroke late last month. There is a huge void where his dynamic spirit once walked, especially in Maplewood, NJ, their home for the past 14 years.

Jim was a serial entrepreneur, building brands, refining recipes for Pickett’s Ginger Beer, and starting companies since he was a business student at Penn State. But that won’t be his legacy. Rather, the love he had for his family and friends may be what strikes people most.

And the love and admiration they had for him! Those from near and far attended a remembering Jim Pickettquickly-assembled “Gathering of Remembrance” in Maplewood earlier this month. A standing-room only crowd shared memories from across Jim’s lifetime, depicting a man both well loved and well lived. They highlighted entrepreneurial struggles and triumphs, his remarkable curve ball, and again, his devout loyalty for his friends and unequivocal adoration for his family.

But Jim Pickett’s legacy goes even further. Jim, like many of us, had registered as an organ donor with the DMV.

On July 1st, Jim passed from this world, but his heart continues to beat, his lungs continue to breathe, and his kidneys continue to process. Thanks to Jim’s generosity and selflessness, the wait was finally over for five people desperately awaiting lifesaving organ transplants.

“Only about one percent of people who die are able to go on to be organ donors and about 10 percent of people who die are able to go on to be tissue donors,” said Jacqueline Salvatore, Family Support Coordinator at the NJ Sharing Network. “Jim was able to save lives through organ and tissue donation and we will not know the full extent of the lives he has saved and helped for about a year.”

After Jim died, Heidi initiated the process required to honor his wishes. During a time of chaos, confusion, and insurmountable grief, my amazing sister took the time to clear her mind, learn the process, and make a rational decision that would define his legacy.


The Sharing Network honored Jim by flying a flag signed by friends and family outside Saint Barnabas Medical Center for 24 hours.

Experts say one organ donor can save eight lives and impact another 75 through tissue donation. If more people registered as organ donors, and their families were aware of their wishes, more miracles would arise from tragedy — in New Jersey, in Alabama, where I live, and across the country (according to an article from The New York Times, the situation is especially dire in the Empire State.)

“Our donation numbers in Alabama are improving, but we could transplant additional people if more people said yes,” said Ann Rayburn, Director of Education at the Alabama Organ Center. “Last year we had the highest number of organ donors and organs transplanted in our history.  Sadly, there are still nearly 2,500 people waiting for an organ transplant in Alabama today and our kidney transplant waiting list is one of the longest in the country. ”

Heidi and Jim pickett wedding

Heidi and Jim at their wedding in 2000.

We are devastated by the loss of a great man. Fortunately, Heidi is strong and resilient, and she can imagine the pleasure Jim would have had knowing that his strong lungs and loving heart are now helping others.

To learn more about organ donation, contact your local organ procurement agency. In New Jersey, visit the Sharing Network; in Alabama, the Alabama Organ Center.  To make a donation in Jim’s memory to the NJ Sharing Network, click here and select the tribute option for your gift.


About minndixiemom

I'm a Minnesota native with an Alabama heart, reflecting on the past while looking toward the future. My husband, David, and I landed in Huntsville in the late 90s through my former career in TV news. We have two amazing girls, Serina and Sophia, whom we are raising with God's guidance and grace. Besides faith and family, my passions include writing, walking, mental health, and recovery. By day, I'm the Director of Development for WellStone (another passion), North Alabama's largest and most comprehensive mental healthcare provider.
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