ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Her smile, her laugh and her work ethic is what people say they remember most about Emily James, who helped manage the concessions at Isotopes Park when she wasn’t teaching full-time with the Albuquerque Public Schools.
Emily, 37, a single mother of a young son, died July 16 at University of New Mexico Hospital, where she had been in intensive care since June 22, after experiencing a cardiac episode while working at the stadium.
“She always had a smile, was the hardest worker in the building and she was loved by everybody, from the team to the ushers, and co-workers to customers,” said Ryan Curry, assistant general manager for Spectra food services, which operates the concessions at the stadium as well as at the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta.
Emily worked part-time for the company for more than a decade, where she also helped in screening and hiring workers, said her mother, Rita Coleman.
In her honor, the Isotopes had a moment of silence on July 16, just prior to their game against the Fresno Grizzlies, as well as drew a chalk heart with her name just behind the umpire position at home plate.
Curry recalled working with James during the Balloon Fiesta and the lasting impression she made on him.
“We’d be out there at 2 or 3 a.m. to get ready – it’s always miserable to be there at 2 or 3 a.m. – and she’d come over and say hi before she went over to her side of the field,” he said. “She was always smiling or laughing, and you could never tell if she was having a bad day or not because she never showed it.”
Coleman said her daughter’s illness was unexpected, particularly because she was athletic, had no history of serious illness, kept busy and always had a positive attitude.
Exactly what caused the cardiac episode also “remains a mystery,” she said. “That week, she said she didn’t feel good, so she went to see a doctor. They ran tests, but didn’t see anything. Later, while she was in the ICU, they did other tests but still couldn’t see anything.”
Emily was in a medically induced coma for part of the time she was in the hospital. She never regained full consciousness, and her condition never improved, her mother said.
Sadly, Coleman’s husband, Emily’s father, Dan Coleman, had his own cardiac event that landed him in the same ICU where his daughter was being treated. He has since recovered and has been released from the hospital.
“In her first days in the hospital, about 100 people came to see her, often bringing flowers and food,” Coleman said. “Many were former students, and one was a young man she hired to work for Spectra. He has cerebral palsy and came 90 minutes on buses to see her. He told me if it wasn’t for Emily, he wouldn’t have any job. What all this tells me is Emily was much loved.”
Above all, Emily was a devoted and loving mother to her 11-year-old son, Evan, with whom she shared custody and co-parenting responsibilities with her former husband, Ben James.
A native of Albuquerque, Emily attended Bellehaven Elementary School, Grant Middle School and Sandia High School, before going to the University of New Mexico, where she earned a degree in health education and physical education. She was an honors student for much of her academic career.
She subsequently worked at Highland High School, teaching health education for the last 15 years. To honor her memory, the school will build a flower and rock garden in her name, her mother said.
Athletic, Emily loved swimming, competed on swimming teams and played water polo, Coleman said. She also enjoyed gardening, particularly growing flowers and vegetables, and she loved to dance and sing.
An animal lover, Emily cared for two dogs, two cats, a fish and a turtle at the time of her death.
“As a child Emily was always curious, fearless and independent, and being the only girl in a family with three brothers, if she saw the boys doing something, she felt she should be able to do it, too,” said her mother.
Emily also had a side that was “very girly, and she attended all the school proms and dances.”
Capable, kind and hard working, Emily was the first among her friends to move into her own apartment, and later bought her own home at age 19.
In addition to son Evan, his father Ben James, and parents Rita and Dan Coleman, Emily is also survived by brothers Dan Coleman of Clovis, Eric Coleman of Sacramento, Calif., and Robert Coleman of Albuquerque, as well as numerous aunts, uncles and other relatives.
A memorial service for her will be held July 30, at 10:30 a.m., at Sangre de Cristo Catholic Church, 8901 Candelaria NE.
The family requests that donations in Emily’s name be made to Animal Humane New Mexico.