James L. Waters, a former University of Michigan regent, prominent attorney, entrepreneur and philanthropist, died suddenly and very unexpectedly Aug. 31 at his home in Muskegon, Michigan.
The husband of Muskegon County Clerk Nancy Waters, he was born March 15, 1940, in Hickman, Arkansas, to Joseph L. and Flora M. (Nash) Waters. On Oct. 25, 1960, he married his high school sweetheart, the former Nancy Ann Finley in Niles, Michigan. He grew up in Dowagiac, Michigan, where he was fortunate to not only receive a good education, but also excel in a variety of team sports. He enjoyed the challenge of competition, the camaraderie of team play, and the intricacies of the mental side of the game. This positioned him well for a career in law and service to others.
He received a Bachelor of Business Management from Western Michigan University in 1967 and his Doctor of Jurisprudence from the University of Michigan Law School in 1970. Upon graduation from law school he accepted a position with the McCroskey Law Firm in Muskegon where he became a partner and practiced for 20 years. He later opened his own practice, The James L. Waters Law Offices where he practiced for 25 years until his untimely passing.
In 1979, Jim and Nancy founded WCXT-FM, a 100,000-watt radio station in Hart, Michigan. The station license was awarded after a landmark decision that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. They owned the station for nearly 25 years.
The same year he received his law degree he also was elected to the U-M Board of Regents, where he served for 24 years. As a regent, he traveled extensively as an ambassador advocating on behalf of the university in places that included Russia, China, Hong Kong and the Philippines. The past 24 years he continued to demonstrate his unwavering support of the university as regent emeritus.
Waters was a long-standing philanthropist, volunteer and leader in support of many causes and organizations. Funds were donated to make the Waters Center for the Performing Arts a reality when the new Muskegon Heights High School was built. In 1996, U-M honored him with a Distinguished Alumni Service Award, in 2010 the Muskegon Exchange Club honored him with a Book of Golden Deeds Award for his contributions to the Greater Muskegon community, in 2017 he received the True Blue Award from the 2nd Congressional Democratic Party for upholding the principles of the Democratic Party and for his leadership and determination. Also, Omega Psi Phi Fraternity recognized him in 2017 for financial support of their scholarship fund, he served as Grand Marshall for the Muskegon Heights Parade in 2017, Community Foundation Board member, five-year member of Michigan State Board of Canvassers, Muskegon County Men Who Care, and Life Member of the NAACP.
Survivors include his wife, Nancy A. Waters, his mother, Flora M. Waters of Dowagiac, brothers Leroy (Yulonda Ward) Waters of Benton Harbor, and Larry (Adrienne) Waters of Elm Grove, WIisconsin, and a sister-in-law, Sylvia Perkins. He also is survived by a host of nephews, nieces, cousins and special friends. His son, Mark L. Waters, father, Joseph L. Waters and brothers John, Milton and Henry Waters, preceded him in death.
Waters mentored numerous people inside and outside the field of law. All who knew him benefited from his sage advice and counsel, always delivered in an unassuming, pragmatic way. His absence will leave a void for many. He will be remembered for his deep intelligence, wit, and sense of humor.
In lieu of flowers, please consider a contribution to the Nancy Waters and Mark Waters Fund administered by the Muskegon County Community Foundation. Please visit muskegonfoundation.org for donation information.