NEWPORT NEWS - James Thomas Warlitner, Jr., ("Jack" to all who knew and loved him) passed away Sunday, September 23, 2013, following a brief illness. Preceded in death by his mother (Mamie Viola Smith Warlitner), father (James Thomas Warlitner Sr.), son (Thomas Wade Warlitner), daughter (Irene Warlitner), 3 sisters, and 3 brothers, he is survived by daughter Dorothy Ann Warlitner Cannon, son James Thomas Warlitner III (Crystal Coffey Warlitner), son Keith Allen Warlitner, 10 grandchildren, 13 great grandchildren and 1 great-great granddaughter. Born in Clifton Forge, VA, September 9, 1925, Jack moved to Newport News as a child where he lived until enlisting in the United States Navy in 1942. Stationed aboard numerous naval vessels in many foreign ports during and following WWII, Jack served his country with distinction and pride for 20 years of active duty service and 10 years as a Naval Reservist. Known in the Navy as the "pint-sized Hercules, " Jack was considered the man willing to do anything, for anyone, at any time. He was a man considered everyone's friend, respected and liked by peers and subordinates alike. Following retirement from his active duty Naval career in 1962, Jack began the next chapter of his life, returning to Newport News and working first on a tugboat and then for Newport News Ship Building. In 1970, while on loan from the shipyard to climb and install chain motors on the high steel of Hampton Coliseum, Jack came to the attention of McManus Enterprises. Watching him climb and work hundreds of feet in the air, McManus recruited Jack as their "Head Rigger" and he traveled the globe known as "Jack the Rigger." Throughout the 1970s, Jack hit the road alongside classic shows of Jethro Tull, Led Zeppelin, Elton John, KISS, ZZ Top, and many more iconic entertainers. When McManus added other facets of the industry, including lighting contracts with HBO Sports, Jack witnessed many historical sporting events including Summer and Winter Olympic Games, championship boxing matches, gymnastics, track and field, tennis, and more. He met and worked with legends Ali, Foreman, Frazier, Tyson, and Holyfield, to name a few, and worked in fascinating places including Seoul (Korea), Tokyo (Japan), Kinshasa (Zaire Africa), Las Vegas, and New York's Madison Square Garden. Jack was recognized as MVP by Comcast Sportsnet and was declared the "Oldest Working Rigger in the United States," where he continued to climb the high steel until his retirement after 34 years at age 79. Jack returned to Newport News in 2004. Officially retired, he was a hard-working, fiercely independent man who immediately rented warehouse and shop space and continued to work on projects such as nautical knot boards and his famous "Jack Bags" every day, 7 days a week, until his passing. Visitation will be Thursday, September 26, 2013 (5:30 - 7:00 pm at Peninsula Funeral Home, Newport News). Memorial Services will be Friday, September 27, 2013 (5:30 pm, at Olivet Christian Church, Old Courthouse Way, Newport News). A private burial service with full military honors will be held for family at Hampton National Cemetery, Hampton, Virginia (1:00 pm, Friday, September 27, 2013). In lieu of flowers, contributions may be sent to the Peninsula SPCA or Olivet Christian Church.
Published in Daily Press from Sep. 25 to Sep. 27, 2013.