Air Force Veteran and Pipefitter James Riley was Known for his Big Personality and Contagious Smile


James “Jim” Riley, 80, of Ann Arbor, Michigan, passed away peacefully on April 6th, 2024. He was born in Lawrence, Massachusetts, to Winston and Hazel (Blinn) Riley on January 29th, 1944. At the age of two, his family relocated to Ann Arbor, Michigan where he called home, most of his life. From an early age, Jim had a big personality, with a great sense of humor accompanied by a contagious smile.

Jim developed a strong work ethic at a young age, by helping his father behind the meat counter of their family-owned Riley’s IGA grocery store, in addition to raising thousands of chickens to supply the local stores. After graduating from Saline High School, Jim enlisted in the United States Air Force as a Sheet Metal Specialist. He spent four years in Topeka, Kansas working on Aircraft and occasionally his buddies vehicles that he would sneak into the shop. In 1962, he married Sharyn Silver and together they had two children, Ricky and Robyn. After his enlistment, they returned to Ann Arbor and built their home which quickly became the gathering space for family and friends. They enjoyed playing cards, Halloween parties, nights of dancing, baseball games, gardening and frequently traveling to Traverse City and Sanibel Island. Together they shared 32 wonderful years of marriage before her passing.

Jim enjoyed working with his hands and the skills he learned as an Airman, contributed to his successful career in the trades, as a Pipefitter. He was a proud member of the Local UA 190 and earned his lifetime member status in 2019.

During his retirement, Jim spent many summers, hanging out by the pool with his grandkids and cheering them on at baseball field, rarely ever missing a game. He was proud Father, Grandfather and most recently, Great Grandfather, “Papa”.

Jim had a fun spirited soul, full of sarcasm and inappropriate sayings. He was a captivating storyteller and lived his best days being the “quiet” or not-so-quiet guy. He took on many passions during his lifetime. One of which included attending estate auctions and garage sales in search of “good junk” as he would call it. He took great pride in being “thrifty - not cheap” and lived by the words “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” He was a very knowledgeable gun collector and had a fond love for Luger pistols, Hardy Boy books and fly fishing. It wasn’t unusual to find various animal fur and feathers on his counter as he gathered a lifetime supply for crafting his own flies. An afternoon spent hosting his buddies, crafting new masterpiece flies, was something he cherished just as much as skillfully navigating the waters, patiently waiting for the next bite. Among his favorite adventures were annual trips to the ‘Red Cabin’ where few fish were caught, lies were told and memories were created.

In addition to his passion for acquiring “good junk” and fly fishing, Jim liked to make homemade wine, read the newspaper, , follow the stock market, visit the Saline Rec Center, have coffee with the guys at McDonalds, share his famous bean soup, pick wild asparagus, and visit with his mother. He loved his “holy” Levi jeans, his 2nd Amendment rights, classic cars, black coffee, porkchops grilled just right, pulling pranks, never being in a hurry, making friends with random strangers and riding his mower to down to “his boy’s” (Rick) house to visit.

Even at the end, Jim found a way to smile and make others laugh, often over a middle of the night, ice cream snack. He will be remembered for his witty sense of humor, his stubbornness, his honesty, and his kindness.

Tremendous and heartfelt thanks go to the truly exceptional care team at Chelsea Retirement Home, Towsley Village, who provided much more than just care for “Papa Jim”, but also provided a warm and compassionate environment during his transition from this life to the next.

Jim was predeceased by his wife, Sharyn; parents, Winston and Hazel; and daughter, Robyn Adams.

He is survived by his son Rick (Samantha) Riley; son-in-law Joe Adams; sister Virginia (Larry) of Atascadero, CA; his brother Bob (Diana) Riley of Chelsea, MI; grandchildren: Samantha Desentz, Dylan (Sara) Adams, Dani Guire, Ryan Adams, Brianna Maury, and Madelyn (Alec) Brown; great-grandchildren: Riley Guire and Cameron Adams; and several cousins, nieces, and nephews, along with his lifelong friend, Terry Bishop.

The family will receive friends and family for visitation on Monday, April 15, 2024, from 10:00 A.M. to 12:00 P.M. at the Robison-Bahnmiller Funeral Home in Saline. Funeral services will be held immediately after visitation at 12:00 P.M. Pastor Drex Morton will be officiating. Following the service, burial will take place at Oakwood Cemetery, Saline.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests that memorial contributions in Jim’s name be made to Saline Area Social Service. To leave a memory you have of Jim, to sign his guestbook or for directions please visit

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