Jim Maestri, a retired truck driver and avid outdoorsman who spent much of his life embodying the ideals of the classic American male, died February 5 near his home in Point Reyes Station. He was 73.
Reticent and kind, Maestri was known for his no-frills attitude and dependable word. “He was the type of guy that when you needed something, he’d jump right in,” said Jim Simon, a friend and the owner of Building Supply Hardware, where Maestri volunteered for the last several years. “Anybody he knew who needed a hand, he was there, feeding their dogs, splitting their firewood—whatever was necessary.”
Maestri relished every opportunity to live off the land—hunting, fishing, picking abalone, and foraging for mushrooms in the hills. He was not enticed by the glimmer of newfangled things.
“In a lot of ways my dad was a very simple man,” said his daughter, Michelle. “Material things didn’t matter to him. He could wear an old ragged t-shirt until it fell apart. It was always all about family and friends.”
James A. Maestri was born July 8, 1938 in Petaluma, to Tony, a CalTrans worker, and Zelma Maestri. The family, which included Maestri’s younger sister, Genevieve, moved to Point Reyes Station nine years later. Tony became acquainted with several members of the local hunting crowd, and began taking his son into the wilderness in search of duck, deer, and other meal-worthy animals.
Maestri attended Black School—located on the corner where the fire department now stands—and later Tomales High School. After graduating in 1956, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy, serving actively for four years. He rarely spoke of the experience. “It was peace time,” said his wife, Carolyn. “He went all over—Hong Kong, that sort of thing.”
Maestri returned to Point Reyes and took a job hauling lumber for Diamond National, which operated in what is now Toby’s Feed Barn. When the company went bust, he started hauling beer and wine for a local distributor. When that company went under, he started hauling cement for McPhail’s. When McPhail’s shuddered its cement service, he found yet another position driving for a Petaluma-based cement company. “It seemed like every 10 years he had to start over,” Carolyn said.
Carolyn met Maestri in Petaluma in 1962—probably while bowling, she said. “My girlfriend was the one who wanted to go out with him but I ended up being the one who did.” They were married the following year. Carolyn gave birth to their first child, Tony, in 1966, and to their second, Michelle, three years later.
Maestri was a caring, but at times stern, father. “We all knew he loved us, but he was a tough man,” Michelle said. Much like his own father, he took Tony on frequent hunting and fishing trips. “Some of my best memories were spent outdoors,” Tony said.
In the field, Maestri provided even-tempered guidance to several other local boys. “An awful lot of young men who’d never bagged a deer before bagged their first with him, because he had the patience to sit with them and always let them have the first shot,” Stan Truttman, a friend and colleague of Maestri’s at the Giacomini Deer Club, said.
“He was a great mentor to me,” said Luke Stevens, who learned from Maestri, as his children later did, many of the intricacies of foraging. “My words can never express how much that man meant to me.”
More than anything, Maestri preferred being outdoors. “Oftentimes he’d leave Friday night and wouldn’t come back until Sunday evening,” Carolyn said. “He ate plenty, drank plenty and hunted plenty.”
Maestri was meticulous when it came to safety, which is why it was a shock to many when, on October 31, 2002, while crouching in a duck blind in what is now the Giacomini Wetlands, he accidentally shot himself in the face with a 12-guage shotgun. A fellow hunter stopped the bleeding. Maestri, who never lost consciousness, was airlifted to a nearby hospital, where surgeons spent weeks reconstructing his right jaw and cheek.
“It always looked like he’d had a stroke,” Carolyn said. “He handled it so gracefully, when a lot of people would be boo-hooing. Sometimes he’d look in the mirror and go, ‘Oh my God,’ but otherwise he never complained about the way he looked.” By the following year Maestri was back outside, hunting, fishing, and foraging.
Following his retirement in 2002, Maestri grew restless. He began frequenting Building Supply, conversing and drinking coffee with employees, and eventually persuaded Simon to take him on as a volunteer. “Next thing I knew he was here first thing in the morning every Wednesday, checking things off and keeping everyone in line,” Simon said. Pretty much everyone here loved him, customers and employees alike.”
By mid-January, Maestri had lost much of his appetite and was experiencing stomach pains. Medical tests revealed several cancerous tumors. “If he had been feeling anything before that he never said a word,” Carolyn said. “He just got sick and we took him in. It was bad—but quick.”
Jim Maestri is survived by his wife, Carolyn; two children, Tony Maestri and Michelle Maestri Burkhard; grandchildren, JT and Jared Maestri; younger sister, Genevieve Johnson; and many close friends. A memorial will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday, February 18, at Sacred Heart Church.