James Runnels – Lake County Loses a Soldier and A Scholar

James Mercer Runnels passed away Sunday July 24th at Florida Hospital Waterman. He was 67 years old. Born in Marietta, Georgia to Arthur Elmore Runnels and Cleopal Evans

Jim, as he was known, was a graduate of Lakeland High School prior to joining the military. Runnels was an Air Force veteran of the Vietnam War. After returning from duty, he settled in Panama City, Florida, attending Gulf Coast Community college. He quickly found a niche in journalism, joining the Panama City News Herald. In 1978, Runnels relocated his family to Lake County to take a position with the Orlando Sentinel.

Eventually Jim joined the staff at the fledgling Lake Sentinel to cover courts and cops. During this time he covered numerous notable cases, homicides and scandals and received accolades for his unbiased approach with a subtle irony.

Away from work, Jim expressed himself through his painting, often creating portraits of people he wrote about in the newspaper. His true passion was painting sunsets over his beloved Florida lakes and swamps. He wrote a weekly art column for the Sentinel covering the scene in Lake County. He was a photography enthusiast with a complete darkroom built from scratch in his garage. He enjoyed music, particularly rock and roll featuring talented drummers, as he had played in a band in his early days.

He is survived by former wife Sheri Buck, daughter Laura Marcinkowski, and sons Joe and Adam Runnels as well as 6 grandchildren. He was the youngest of 8 children, and is survived by brother Sam, and sisters Sue, Becky, Jerry and Nita.


“But when he was put to the test by circumstance, he somehow turned catastrophe into opportunity; turned his weakness into strength. From almost nothing- a little paint, a stretch of cloth, a freed up mind and an unembarrassed heart- he made this.”