Longest-serving Farms mayor left lasting impact on his lifelong hometown

By: K. Michelle Moran | Grosse Pointe Times | Published December 11, 2021

 Former Grosse Pointe Farms Mayor and City Councilman James Farquhar takes part in his last council meeting Oct. 11. After 20 years in office, Farquhar decided not to run again in 2021.

Former Grosse Pointe Farms Mayor and City Councilman James Farquhar takes part in his last council meeting Oct. 11. After 20 years in office, Farquhar decided not to run again in 2021.

Photo by K. Michelle Moran

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Editor’s note: The year 2021 was marked by the departure of a number of longtime, significant officials in the Grosse Pointes. This story is about one of those individuals.

GROSSE POINTE FARMS — When a new Grosse Pointe Farms City Council was sworn in last month, one longtime familiar face wasn’t at the table.

After 20 years in elected office, former mayor and City Council member James C. Farquhar decided not to run for another term this year.

Farquhar fought tears at the end of his last meeting Oct. 11. He remembered the four council members who died in office during his tenure — Joe Leonard, Douglas Roby, Charles “Terry” Davis and Peter Waldmeir — and thanked the city staff and fellow officials who served alongside him.

“Thank you to all of the residents,” Farquhar said. “About 98% of it has been pure pleasure.”

Farquhar, a lifelong Farms resident and former owner of a multi-generational family floral business in the Farms, was one of the longest-serving elected officials in Farms history, having first been elected to the council in 2001. In 2003, he became the city’s first generally elected mayor — previous mayors were chosen by a vote of the council. Farquhar became the city’s longest-serving mayor, officiating in that role until 2017, when he decided not to run for reelection as mayor and instead successfully ran for a four-year council term.

In 2018, Farquhar was honored with a plaque in his name at the Pier Park harbor.

“This park has meant a lot to Jim over the years,” said Waldmeir at the Sept. 30, 2018, unveiling of the plaque; Waldmeir succeeded Farquhar as chair of the Parks and Harbor Committee. “Jim was instrumental in working on the harbor and getting input there … (and in making) modifications to the park after the (1997) storm. It seemed only fitting the city recognize Jim and his family and all of their years of service, and there’s probably nothing more fitting than this plaque.”

City Manager Shane Reeside agreed.

“The location for this plaque is very fitting,” he said in 2018. “In particular, it mentions his involvement with (the new) harbor in 2006. I don’t think there was a day that went by through the construction process that Jim wasn’t down here surveying the work and offering input. … And Pier Park has always been a passion for him since his days on the Beautification Commission to today.”

Farquhar was a member of the Parks and Harbor Committee from its infancy circa 1985, and he also helped write the bylaws for the city’s Beautification Advisory Commission, which was also founded around that time. He was on a committee that worked on a master plan for Pier Park around 1994; the report was completed in 1995. Two years later — on July 2, 1997 — Farquhar vividly remembers the “storm that wiped out the park.” A vicious straight-line windstorm tore through the Grosse Pointes, toppling scores of mature trees and claiming several lives when a family picnicking at an old Pier Park gazebo found themselves swept into Lake St. Clair by the violent wind. Lifeguards working at the pool that day were among the first responders, jumping into the lake and rescuing several people.

Out of that terrible storm came efforts to restore the park, including the planting of many trees.

Former City Manager Rich Solak, who retired in 2003, was on hand for the 2018 plaque dedication.

“I think the most important thing about Mayor Farquhar is the love he has for this community,” Solak said. “The harbor is very important to him, and that’s the reason for the plaque today. But he’s been devoted to the whole community.”

As he steps away from elected office, fellow council members reflected on Farquhar’s impact on them and the city.

“It was Jim, along with the two other people, that spoke to me about running for this seat two years ago,” City Councilwoman Beth Konrad-Wilberding said via email. “I have sought out his guidance. I look at him as an example. We don’t always agree on everything, but I will tell you one thing we do agree on: The No. 1 thing that he has in his heart and in his mind, and always the priority on his agenda, is for what is the best for Grosse Pointe Farms.

“Jim Farquhar will be missed for his incredible knowledge of financial issues, public safety, infrastructure and his years of devotion to our outstanding parks,” she continued. “Fortunately, his long tenure has given incredible guidance for the future of our city.”

Farquhar has said he intends to remain active with the Parks and Harbor Committee, as Mayor Louis Theros also noted.

“Jim was a valued councilman and Mayor who proudly served our community for 20 years,” Theros said by email. “I fully expect Jim to stay engaged with the parks and harbor committee, as Pier Park has long been Jim’s passion. Jim is a consensus maker, and he deftly led the council on many projects during his tenure. Jim is a dear friend, and I know I’ll miss his counsel on city matters.”

Theros ran for mayor after Farquhar announced his decision not to run for that seat again in 2017.

“To me, when I think of Jim, I think of honesty and integrity,” City Councilman Lev Wood said via email. “Jim was always fair and thoughtful with visitors and residents who came before our council. He was always willing to listen, and he always had the best interests of the city’s residents in mind when he made decisions both as mayor and a council member.”

Wood summed up the feelings of many other residents and officials when he ruminated on Farquhar’s departure.

“Jim did a great service to our city, and we will miss him,” Wood said by email.

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