The man who wouldn’t give up

Posted on 22 May 2010 at 12:28am
By Stefano Weidmer | University of North Texas

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following story was submitted by Stefano Weidmer, a public relations student at the University of North Texas, as part of a class assignment.


Jim Frederick is unstoppable. This 44-year-old Dallas artist has overcome many challenges throughout his life, refusing to let those challenges keep him from living his own life and helping others.

Frederick is a very active person and no matter what life throws at him he does not give up. He appears artsy, with a goatee and pants with paint splatters all over them. He also walks around with a cane he hand-painted himself to fit his personality.

It also appears that everything Frederick touches helps somebody out. He is an avid bicyclist who participates in many races for the benefits of nonprofit organizations.

Frederick also loves to express himself in art, and that has lead him to a career as an artist. He also donates part of his proceeds from his artwork to organizations. And he is a participant in Turtle Creek Choir that had a recent event that sent its profits to Haiti relief.

Upon meeting him, a person wouldn’t guess he had been diagnosed with HIV, or has been living with a brain disease for more that three years.

Frederick was born in Washington, Mo., in 1964. He was raised Catholic and also went to a Catholic high school. After his high school days, Frederick went to Southeast Missouri State University for a degree in advertising and in marketing in 1988.

His big adventures began after his graduation when he interviewed for a job with an advertising agency in Dallas.

"I just wanted to do something. I was young and didn’t have worries," Frederick explained.

With that mindset, Frederick made a big move and took the job in Dallas, but his career started out rather bumpy.

Frederick’s first job at the agency only lasted about a year before the company went bankrupt. He quickly found another job at an advertising agency, but yet again, this did not last long.

Only two years into his career in the corporate world, Jim could tell that this was not what he wanted to do for the rest of his life.  

During his short-lived advertising career, Frederick found out that he was HIV positive in 1990. The hardest part of the diagnosis, he said, was telling his parents because they still had not known that their son was gay.

When Frederick was diagnosed, there was still not very much information and treatments for AIDS.

"I cried," he admitted. "Back then no one had any idea of what was happening. The major drug was AZT, and in large doses it was very toxic."

On top of being HIV positive himself, Frederick was losing friends to the disease at a very rapid pace. So his first few years in Dallas were not his best.

But Frederick wouldn’t be deterred. With the same determination that first brought him to Dallas, Frederick decided to start his own business making greeting cards. His parents did not take the news well. It was their input that made Frederick realize that he wasn’t prepared for a step like this; he had done no research how to run a business.

But still Frederick was determined.

"If the corporate world can succeed in business and not even run their business well, then I can for sure run a business," he declared. So he continued with his plans, determined to prove his parents wrong.

Although his parents were doubtful, Frederick had a lot of support from his friends in PACE (Positive Attitudes Change Everything), a group for people who, like him, were HIV-positive. And, he said, his own positive attitude was an asset.

And it all paid off. Frederick’s greeting card business, featuring cards he designed and painted by hand, was a success. The cards were being sold across the country. And yet, he couldn’t keep up. So at a friend’s suggestion, Frederick turned his greeting card company into a T-shirt design company, also featuring his own artwork, called Jymwear.

Jymwear lasted for about 10 years, but Frederick also had to give this up because, again, all his shirts were hand-painted and he could not keep up with his national market.

Frederick’s business ventures had left him craving more creativity in his life. And so he stepped into his next passion.

One day while hosting a dinner party, Frederick realized that his apartment lacked a positive feel; he decided that he needed some artwork.

He went out looking for art and was astounded to see what he found: It was simply a big red circle on a blue canvas — for $3,000. And so was launched his his new career as an artist. With a little encouragement, he painted a piece for his dinner party.

This art piece, of a coffee mug, was a huge success. He sold it, for what he thought was an amazing $300. He told a friend about the sale, but his friend told Frederick he could have easily sold the piece for $1,000.

For the longest time, Frederick said, he did not consider himself an artist. He thought that a person had to go to school to claim that title. That’s changed now, though, and sees his artwork as an outlet for his own emotions.

"I like to see how something feels, and I like to copy that feeling into words. My words are through my paint," Frederick said, adding that he loves to see people intrigued and engaged in his art.

"My artwork is for real people in their real lives," he said. "If someone says that a piece would look great in their bathroom, its very flattering because it means that this piece is important enough for them to see every single day."

Frederick is still painting and has shows periodically, including one recent shopw at Urban Dog Coffee in Oak Lawn. Part of the proceeds from that show went to Lone Star Ride Fighting AIDS, an organization Frederick has been volunteering with for more than a decade.

Volunteering is in his heart, Frederick said. He volunteers for several organizations, all of which he has some close connection to, including AIDS Interfaith Network of Dallas, a youth program called Dare to Dream, and, of course, Lone Star Ride Fighting AIDS. Even when he was unable to participate in Lone Star Ride as a rider, he volunteered for the organization.

The reason he was unable to ride was due to Frederick’s most recent hurdle. A little more than three years ago Frederick was diagnosed with a brain disease called progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy, or PNL, a rare disorder that damages the nerve covering in the brain.

The disorder affected the right side of Frederick’s brain, leaving his left side almost completely paralyzed. The symptoms are very much like the symptoms of a stroke.

Frederick recalled that he was very frustrated with his slow recovery from PNL. He had to relearn how to do everything, even his passions like bicycling and painting. Because the PNL threw off his balance, he broke his pelvic bone while trying to relearn how. That’s why he now walks with a cane

This relearning process has even affected his artwork. It is a very big deal for him to stand up and sit down, so Jim has to gather everything before hand. This makes him think more in detail about his artwork.

Frederick said he feels like the left side of his body cannot trust his right side, which is why he was unable to drive until just recently. He still cannot drive on highways, but it’s still better than public transportation he said.

Frederick said it has been a long, slow and sometimes frustrating struggle, but he is finally starting to feel human again. He is becoming more independent, especially now that he can walk and drive again. He is able to volunteer more and do a little more with his life every single day.

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