James Burton: True Survivor
By James Florence, Diamond Certified Resource Reporter
BENICIA — Before he was general manager of Oak Plumbing Inc., James Burton handled logistics for major corporate accounts—no small responsibility, to be sure. “In my prior career, I ran massive warehouses on huge accounts for clients like Honeywell and Hewlett-Packard,” he details. “One of the biggest accounts I managed was a billion-dollar vaccine program. It wasn’t unusual for me to be managing up to 400 employees at one time.”
So, how did someone accustomed to handling such large-scale operations end up working at a small plumbing company? As James relates, it resulted from the combination of a lifelong friendship and a life-altering event. “I’ve been friends with Matt Harris, the owner of Oak Plumbing, for about 30 years. What’s more, he saved my life. When I was 30, I found out I had stage 4 cancer and, if I didn’t get to a specialist immediately, I might be dead within a couple of days. When my insurance company declined to cover an airlift or ambulance transport, Matt rushed me from Nevada to San Francisco in his car to get me the care I needed. He was there for me throughout my recuperation as well. Incredibly, I made a complete recovery, and now I’m totally cancer-free.”
Following his recovery, James took the opportunity to reboot his professional livelihood. “Matt and I always wanted to work together, but it just never worked out,” he explains. “When Matt started Oak Plumbing in 2016, I helped out as a consultant, assisting him with things like corporate structure and process. Eventually, it made sense for us to work together on a permanent basis, so I joined the company and have been working here ever since.”
Today, as general manager of Oak Plumbing, James says his favorite part of his job is having a positive impact. “One thing I like about working in the service industry is the opportunity to help people and be a positive presence in their lives, if only for a short while. When you have a chance to interact with someone and improve their day, it feels very validating.”
A resident of Rocklin (where he lives with his wife, Maricar, and their two children, Camille and James), James spends his free time on a variety of active pastimes. “I’m not the type of person who likes to sit still, so if I’m not working or having family time, I’m usually busy with one of my hobbies,” he affirms. “My main hobby is creating independent comic books for a company called Scattered Comics. I make appearances at comic conventions and have won a few awards for the books I’ve done.” James’ other pastimes include restoring vintage vehicles (“I have a 1976 Harley that I’ve been rebuilding forever.”) and teaching kung fu.
In regard to a personal philosophy, James espouses the power of a positive mindset. “When I began cancer treatment, the doctor explained that if I didn’t maintain a positive mindset, the stress would cause a chemical reaction that would destroy my immune system and I wouldn’t survive. Afterward, I was sitting there with Matt and I said, ‘What did I do wrong to make this happen to me?’ He replied, ‘You didn’t do anything wrong. You’re a good person, and bad things are always trying to bring good people down. It’s up to you to decide how you’re going to respond to this bad thing.’ That had a big impact on me, and it helped me change my mindset. I’d never been a very positive person, but I now saw that it was up to me whether I was going to be a victim or a survivor. That was the second time Matt saved my life.”
When asked the first thing he’d do if he were to retire tomorrow, James says he’d devote more time to the people and pastimes he loves. “As a cancer survivor, I feel that I’m living on borrowed time, so I try to make the most of it. On that note, if I retired from my job, I would spend more time on my two favorite pastimes: being with my family and creating comics.”
Ask Me Anything!
Q: What’s your favorite book?
A: “American Gods” by Neil Gaiman.
Q: Music or talk radio?
A: I love music, but these days I mostly listen to podcasts. I have a really long commute, and listening to podcasts gives me a chance to learn something new and make the most of that time in the car.
Q: Are you an early bird or a night owl?
Q: Do you have a favorite movie?
A: My all-time favorite movie is “Army of Darkness.” However, a more recent favorite is “Logan,” which I appreciated in a way I never thought I would. A superhero infected with cancer, watching his surrogate father die—it hit pretty close to home.
Q: What’s your favorite kind of food?
A: I really love Asian food and Mexican food. I married into a Filipino family, so Asian food is a staple. On the other hand, you can’t beat a good taco!
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