Jamie Hawkins-Gaar, who lit up the world with his contagious humor, boundless creativity and the love he lavished upon his friends, family and especially his wife, Katie Hawkins-Gaar, died on Saturday in Safety Harbor. He was 32.
Jamie was running a half-marathon — his second in three weeks — when he collapsed less than a mile away from the finish line. He was taken to Mease Countryside Hospital, where he was pronounced dead. The cause has not yet been determined.
An improv comic and culinary wizard, Jamie was equally comfortable entertaining onstage as he was at home entertaining with his wife of eight years. He dreamed about becoming a full-time director; his production company, Bland Hack Pictures, turned out comedy shorts viewed by hundreds of thousands of people and even once got a laugh out of Bill O'Reilly.
With a bushy black beard that only accentuated his warm smile, Jamie was prone to sudden bouts of comedy and laughter in roughly equal proportions. His wit, character, tenderness and honesty won him hundreds of devoted friends. As tributes poured in on Facebook, it was clear he somehow managed to have time enough for all of them.
His homes in St. Petersburg and Atlanta were oases of cheer for friends and family who could always stop by for a meal, a drink and hours of honest conversation. He and Katie were notorious in two states for hosting elaborate parties with silly themes accompanied by decadent food.
By day, Jamie was a barista at Craft Kafe on Central Avenue in St. Petersburg. On nights and weekends, he was a hilarious and competitive improviser, a writer with multiple feature-length scripts in the works, a volunteer with Big Brothers, Big Sisters of America, a runner and a beach volleyball player. With his production partner, Julian Modugno, Jamie directed several short movies marked by surreal and outlandish humor.
Over the years, they produced a number of irreverent and creative shorts, from a sendup of digital news organizations attending the White House press briefing to a mock-advertisement for a kosher hookup app in the mode of Grindr ("We've got plenty of tops, and I'm not talking about dreidels").
Jamie's filmmaking career and his marriage can be traced back to the same day in 2003, when he met Katie and Julian at a scholarship selection event for Georgia State University. He got the scholarship — which came with four years of free housing — and began a close friendship with Katie that eventually deepened into strong love. In a story they told friends and family many times over the years, Jamie and Katie agreed that they would be destined to get married if they took the plunge and decided to start dating.
They were right. Jamie and Katie married on Sept. 27, 2008, at the Trolley Barn in Atlanta, surrounded by their numerous friends and family. They bought houses together, made a life in Atlanta together, then uprooted that life and built a new one in St. Petersburg together in January 2015. In the days before Jamie died, they had completed the application to adopt their first child.
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Their romance was a beacon for anyone who aspired to love.
Jamie attended Loganville High School in Loganville, Ga., where he refined his love of the arts — whether it was performing onstage to A-ha's "Take on Me," singing a duet of the Everclear hit "Father of Mine" in the talent show, or playing drums in the marching band. He had a voracious curiosity that cultivated an encyclopedic knowledge of pop culture, cooking, cinema and so much more. He was a bright student with big dreams that took him around the world.
Jamie was born to John and Becky Gaar on Oct. 25, 1984, the youngest of three children. He is survived by his parents; his brother, John Gaar, of Aloha, Ore.; his niece and nephew, Dane and Holly Long;, and his sister and brother-in-law, Christi and John Long, of Newnan, Ga. On his wife's side of the family, he is survived by his mother-in-law, Janet Hawkins, of Decatur, Ga,; and his brother-in-law, Rory Hawkins, of Atlanta.
A gathering for Jamie's friends in St. Petersburg will be held at Green Bench Brewing Company at 6 p.m. Wednesday.
His funeral will be at 3 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 11, at Columbia Presbyterian Church in Decatur, Ga. The following day, a celebration of Jamie's incredible life will be held at Dad's Garage Theatre Company from 2 to 4 p.m. in Atlanta. In lieu of flowers, please send donations in Jamie's name to Big Brothers, Big Sisters of America.