If there was a game to be played, James Lester could play it. And whatever he decided to play that day, he generally was the best on the field, track, court, or course.
Lester was, his friends say, the epitome of a natural athlete. His play on the football field won him high honors in high school and college, but his time in the professional ranks was spent playing baseball, not football.
“James had supreme confidence whenever he competed,” said Robert Barksdale, a former college football and track teammate and roommate. “He was also very outgoing and always positive and upbeat, a great team player.”
An Atlanta native and 1964 graduate of Clark College, Lester was known not just for his athletic ability, but also for his character.
“He was an absolutely gifted athlete, but he was an even better person,” said Lowell Dickerson, life-long friend. “The ultimate tribute to his athletic greatness is the carry over into one’s life. James never took a play off on the field, he was always on. And he was the same way in life, always ready.”
Lester died May 17 from complications of multiple myeloma. He was 71.
A funeral was held Saturday at One Accord Community Church, Decatur. His body was cremated following the service. Gregory B. Levett & Sons Funeral Home, South DeKalb Chapel, was in charge of arrangements.
After he graduated from Clark, Lester served two stints in the Army. Friends said he was drafted by the Atlanta Braves while he was in the service and played semi-pro ball for the Atlanta Cardinals, an independent team of the Negro Leagues era.
“James was gifted in football, basketball and baseball, but so was his twin brother,” said Robert Lowe, a friend since childhood. “He was an excellent golfer and a master builder, too. Really, he was fearless. Anytime you offered him a challenge, he’d take you up on it.”
He worked as a homebuilder, a trade he first learned from his father. He designed and built homes in Texas and later started his own business with his brother and a friend.
Lester’s positive demeanor and willingness to help anyone in need was legendary among his many friends, said Carol Dove, a childhood friend.
“He always aimed to treat everyone with dignity and respect,” she said. “He was a people person and a friend to anybody.”
Barksdale said Lester’s positive attitude surely contributed to his success, in sports and in life.
“I don’t know anyone I’ve been around who was not as positive as James,” he said. “He never cared about himself, but he always cared about others.”
Lester is survived by his mother, Alice Bell Lester of Atlanta; and sons, Jeffrey Kirk Lester of Atlanta, and Marcus Lester of Fort Worth, Texas.
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