By Greg Sandoval
Staff Writer, CNET News.com
James Kim was a respected expert on cutting-edge digital devices, an owner of a trendy clothing store and a lover of the futuristic-sounding music known as electronica.
Yet, according to friends, most of Kim's life revolved around old-fashioned values: sacrifice, friendship and family. Those who knew him say they aren't surprised that Kim, in the last act of his life, demonstrated the ultimate expression of devotion to his wife and daughters.
The body of the 35-year-old Kim was discovered Wednesday in a rugged wilderness area in southern Oregon. He had set out across snow and ice with only tennis shoes to protect his feet. He had eaten little in the seven days since his car got stuck.
"Anyone that knows James will tell you that he would do anything to protect his family," said Jason Zemlicka, a friend of 10 years and former co-worker. "I know him, and he must have believed he was going to get somewhere."
Friends and co-workers now mourn Kim but say they will celebrate his success at helping to accomplish his most important goal during that desperate week in the woods: the rescue of his wife, Kati Kim, and the couple's two daughters, Penelope, 4, and Sabine, seven months.
"I have had the privilege of knowing James since our days together at TechTV," said Joe Gillespie, executive vice president at CNET Networks and a former co-worker of Kim's while the two were at the now-defunct cable channel. "And while I have many fond memories, I will honor forever what he set out to do last Saturday. He is true a hero to all here at CNET."
Indeed, he was praised for his resourcefulness by authorities in Grants Pass, Ore., who organized the search and described his efforts as "superhuman." According to interviews with Kim's in-laws, he lifted his family's spirits by acting as if they were all just on a campout.
Friends say that they couldn't think of anyone who could have fared any better than Kim in the same situation. He was known as a problem solver and a man with unlimited energy who never lost his cool. Kim was raising a family and holding down a full-time job as a product reviewer for CNET, while operating two retail stores with his wife and working on a book for McGraw-Hill about Microsoft's new digital-music player, the Zune.
Kim was a "rising star" in the gadget community, said Lindsey Turrentine, Kim's supervisor at CNET. He had built a loyal following among geeks, music fans and the gadget-obsessed with his insights on MP3 players and other consumer devices.
Jasmine France, an associate editor at CNET who worked for Kim, said he spent most of his workdays amassing knowledge about the latest music players, mining the Web for new facts and talking on the phone with vendors or the many sources he had accumulated.
"He was always connected," France said. "He was always trying to learn more, always gorging himself on new information...I don't think James slept much."
There are plenty of hyperachievers in the world, but what made Kim special, said France, is that amid the chaos of his daily routine, whether he was testing a new gadget or shuttling between his two stores or carting his children to the park, he always had to time to ask about her life.
She said she shared a rare relationship with Kim. "How many people are friends with their boss?" wondered France.
Kim earned his friend's respect by the way he treated people, but many of them revered him for the way he cared for his family.
Zemlicka, who worked with Kim at TechTV during the mid-1990s, was introduced to his wife by Kim. Zemlicka asked him to be one of his two best men at his wedding.
Zemlicka says he admired Kim's taste in music, as well as his discipline and dedication to his passions—specifically his family.
Four years ago, Kim, Zemlicka and their group of friends discovered golf, and Kim fell in love. Not only did he enjoy the game, he also basked in the camaraderie, Zemlicka said. But when daughter Penelope was born, Kim gave up the sport and never looked back, Zemlicka said.
"He wouldn't even sneak away for a few hours once in a while to play nine holes," Zemlicka said. "The truth is that it wasn't that big of a sacrifice—hanging out with a bunch of guys. James had more important things to tend to. He taught me to be a dedicated husband. He's always putting his wife and kids first."
Felix Magtoto, a UPS driver who delivers to the store the Kims own in San Francisco's Noe Valley district, often bonded with Kim over the importance of family. Both of Magtoto's daughters worked for the Kims, and the two men frequently discussed the pleasure of being the lone man in a house full of women.
On the stoop of Magtoto's house, the two men sometimes sipped Hennessy and smoked cigars, and Kim would ask the 53-year-old Magtoto for advice on being a father and husband.
"I saw myself in James," Magtoto said Wednesday after learning of Kim's death. "I liked him because he loved his family the way I love my family. Whatever it took, he wanted to give them everything they needed."