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Posted on Sat, Aug 29, 2009 : 2:07 p.m.

Former Ann Arbor Mayor James Stephenson dies at 83

By Cindy Heflin

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Former Ann Arbor Mayor James Stephenson died today after a long-term illness, said his son John Stephenson. He was 83.

James Stephenson, a longtime patent attorney in Ann Arbor, was elected mayor in 1973 and served one term. John Stephenson said his father ran on a platform opposing an ordinance that made possession of marijuana a $5 civil infraction in the city of Ann Arbor.

"He thought the $5 marijuana ordinance made Ann Arbor a laughingstock," John Stephenson said.

Born in Iowa in 1926, Stephenson grew up during the Depression and worked after-school jobs to raise tuition so he could go to engineering school at Iowa State University. He then paid for law school by working as an examiner at the U.S. Patent Office in Washington, D.C. He worked at law firms in Iowa and Michigan before starting a two-man practice in Ann Arbor in 1961. He retired in 2001.

Stephenson became active in the Republican Party in Ann Arbor in the 1960s. John Stephenson said his father was elected a 4th Ward City Council representative in 1968 and became the leader of Republicans on council.

"He was always interested in improving the community around him," John Stephenson said. "He was a great guy. He was a great guy to my mom, to his kids, to his baseball team and to his friends. I don’t know anybody who didn’t treasure their relationship or their association with Jim Stephenson."

Retired Ann Arbor attorney Ed Hood said James Stephenson was highly regarded in his field as a patent attorney and was a strong mayor.

"He always met my definition of a true leader," said Hood, who called Stephenson his mentor. "He could take a group of people, and he made everybody better."

Stephenson was preceded in death by his first wife, Ruth Wood Stephenson, who died in 1970 from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease. Stephenson then helped raise millions for medical research to fight the disease, his son said.

He married Barbara King Stephenson in 1971 and she survives him. Sons John Stephenson of Muskegon and Daniel Stephenson of Los Angeles, Calif., also survive. His son David died in 1992 at age 30.

Services will be at 11 a.m. Monday at First Presbyterian Church, 1432 Washtenaw in Ann Arbor. A family reception will be held at the Ann Arbor City Club, 1830 Washtenaw Ave., following the service. Arrangements are by Generations Funeral and Cremation Services, Ann Arbor.

In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made to the ALS Association or Arbor Hospice.



Sun, Jun 20, 2010 : 2:45 p.m.

I dont really remember him all too well,God rest his soul. Hey we legalized marijuana for medicinal and one day for all. I wonder if hes in heaven thinking its a joke now,I know if I live to be in my 80's Ill need my medical marijuana more than ever.Peace be with you and your family,maybe even a gay cousin?


Tue, Sep 1, 2009 : 12:17 a.m.

Mr. Stephenson has been know for years about him being anti-Gay, that is what I remember about him that the Gays while he was Mayor would go to his home and protest about him being so mean toward the Gay people of Ann Arbor. He and his wonderful wife made the front page of the Ann Arbor news, while he told the gays to leave the wife came out with hot coffee and cookies because this was on a cold winter day. His wife come out in a Mink Fur coat keeping warm while she would offer hot drink to the gays and then the front yard had more protestors the people against killing animals for fur coats. Yes Mr. Stephenson, rest in peace and I hope the Gays did not go to your funeral to cause you and your family any problems and your wife does bake good cookies, I hope she bakes some for the funeral meal. It was a surprise that the stephensons did keep going to the First Presbyterian church because they had a Youth director that was Gay and the Church accountant was Gay and he was even married to a man, soon after his death the church did hire a non-gay person, a nice man with a wife and children.

Alan Goldsmith

Sun, Aug 30, 2009 : 6:08 p.m.


Alan Goldsmith

Sun, Aug 30, 2009 : 6:07 p.m.

I had a t-shirt at one point that read "Ann Arbor Dope Capital of the Midwest, James Stephenson, Mayor.


Sun, Aug 30, 2009 : 7:15 a.m.

To all who knew him, Mr. Stephenson was a caring and intelligent man. I am deeply saddened by this loss to the Ann Arbor community.