December 15, 2023
If you’ve ever picked up a bow and let an arrow go, either towards a big game animal about to wear your unused tag or perhaps towards a 3-D foam target or field archery target downrange in off-season practice or competition, last week’s sad news of Jim Easton’s death likely struck a somber chord as it did with those of us here in the Bowhunter Magazine family.
As one of the most legendary and philanthropic figures in the long and storied history of bowhunting and target archery, Easton passed away at his home in Los Angeles on Dec. 4, 2023 at the age of 88 years. In recent times, Easton had battled several debilitating strokes, and according to his obituary, the sporting goods legend was in an ongoing fight to recover with the same focus, determination, dignity and hard work that made him a living legend in our sport and beyond.
Easton’s passing was first announced via the Easton Archery Facebook page with this solemn announcement:
“Industry Icon, Jim Easton, passed away today at the age of 88,” read the company social media post. “Jim led an incredible life that touched millions of people around the world through his devotion to excellence in sporting goods equipment, philanthropy, World Archery (FITA) and the Olympic movement. Jim’s legacy is carried on by his son Greg, leader of the Easton companies, as well as the Easton Foundations’ ongoing effort to inspire growth in archery. Jim’s passion, innovation, work ethic, loyalty and most importantly, his integrity, inspired us all.”
The reason for last week’s somber reflection from many in our bowhunting camp — including those here at Bowhunter Magazine, a staff that includes Editor Curt Wells, Sr. Digital Editor Drew Pellman, and Publisher Jeff Waring — is that in many ways, the Easton name and brand is almost synonymous within the history books of bowhunting and archery.
While the corner of our bowhunting and archery world is today occupied with many great bow, arrow, and accessory manufacturing companies from coast to coast, much of today’s arrow building technology and legacy can be traced back in a great way to the Easton family and the powerhouse brand that they have built down through the years.
As history teaches, Doug Easton founded Easton Archery back in 1922, and since then the company has focused on offering innovative, high-quality products at the top of the bowhunting and archery camp, products that remain in high demand today by user's demanding the sport's best archery shooting experiences.
In the years since the Roaring 20's birth of the company, Easton has helped to revolutionize the sport of archery and bowhunting by introducing straight, consistent aluminum arrows in the 1940s, and then moving into the carbon and composite world in the past few decades. Throughout the years, Easton has remained near the top of the mountain, continuing to be one of the sport’s top innovators for decades now. And according to Easton's website, the company's arrow shafts are used by more bowhunters, crossbowmen, 3D competitors, target shooters and Olympic archery competitors than all other brands combined.
Since Doug Easton started it all — by the way, the elder Easton was inducted in the Archery Hall of Fame in 1974 and developed the first aluminum arrow shaft in 1946 — the proprietary manufacturing technology that he invented has been tweaked down through the years. Along the way, such manufacturing expertise has helped the company carve out the rich legacy of Easton Archery, a history that has been strong and ongoing for decades from the legendary XX75 aluminum hunting arrow all the way to the recent Match Grade Pro Shop Line and beyond.
Jim Easton was an integral part of the company’s continued rise to the top of the game. Born in Los Angeles on July 26, 1934, Easton was the CEO of Jas. D. Easton, Inc. (JDE), the parent international sporting goods company that traces its roots back to his father Doug and the archery shop that spurred it all on, a shop that Jim worked in as a youth with his father and his mother Mary. In that shop, Jim learned the craft of the bow-and-arrow, thanks to the top flight, custom archery gear that his father was building and perfecting, gear that attracted such Hollywood figures as Errol Flynn.
Those lessons, both from who taught them and who learned them, have served the company well as it celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2022.
Jim Easton was one of those who learned such lessons well, embarking on a career that would see him rise to the top of the sport when he was inducted into the Archery Hall of Fame in 1997. That HOF trajectory began when Jim attended UCLA, earning an engineering degree in 1959 and working for Douglas Aircraft along the way. He also completed U.S. Army Reserve training and after graduation, rejoined the family archery manufacturing business.
As far-reaching as Jim Easton’s influence was on the archery world in the years that followed, there are actually very few corners of the overall sporting world that he didn’t leave his mark on. In addition to impacting archers, Easton diversified his company into other sporting arenas including the camping world, skiing, golf, tennis, cycling, and even hockey sticks. In fact, Wayne Gretzky, the unquestioned GOAT (Greatest of All Time) in NHL hockey history, switched to an Easton aluminum/carbon composite stick in 1990 as did many other hockey players in the league.
And of course, if you’ve ever had a youngster play youth baseball or softball, or attended an NCAA baseball or softball game, then you’ve undoubtedly heard the rich metallic ping of the ball striking an Easton bat.
After the 2006 merger of Easton Sports, Bell, Giro, and Riddell, Jim Easton became the CEO and Chairman of Easton-Bell Sports, as well as remaining as the Chairman of JDE, the world's leading archery equipment company. The latter was the case thanks to ownership of Easton Technical Products, which includes Easton Archery (arrows and accessories), Delta McKenzie (3-D and recreational archery targets), and Hoyt Archery (compound bows and recurve bows).
Since 1972, Jim's leadership at the helm of Jas. D. Easton, Inc. (JDE) oversaw the successful transition away from the company’s wood and steel products of the past—including tent stakes and ski poles, to name a few—to its role today as producer of some of the industry's best aluminum and carbon composite gear. In addition to leaving his mark on the archery and bowhunting world through gear purchased in archery shops, Jim Easton would help elevate the sport far beyond archery shops, hunting camps and backyard arrow slinging sessions where it flourished for years.
In fact, Easton provided much of archery’s leadership on the worldwide stage of Olympic and World Championship competition for many years. Through countless such roles that he filled down through the years, Easton’s legacy in the sport is as much in the boardroom as it is on the manufacturing floor and backwoods hunting locations around the world.
Part of that longtime influence has been in the Olympics competition where Easton served as the Archery Commissioner, Head of Technology and Mayor of the Athletes Village at UCLA during the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games. And he produced all but one of the Olympic Games Technical Archery films from 1976 to 2004.
As President of the World Archery Federation (formerly FITA), Jim also organized and managed the 1983 FITA World Archery Championships. And as president of the international archery federation for 16 years from 1988 to 2004, he helped to innovate new competition formats that have helped make archery exciting and television-friendly. That work included the 1992 Barcelona Summer Olympic Games and the 2012 London Summer Olympic Games, as well as the Paralympic Games down through the years.
Such career-long involvement in the sport of archery is undoubtedly a reason for the sport being designated as a core sport in the modern Olympic Games today. To that end, he was co-opted as Member of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in 1994 and remained a part of the IOC until his death. Along the way, Easton served as IOC vice president, IOC Executive Board Member and even became an Honorary IOC Member in 2015.
A member of the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee (USOPC) Board of Directors for over 20 years, Easton also served on the Legacy Foundation of the Los Angeles Olympic Games, or LA84, since it was founded.
Easton was also a passionate alumnus for UCLA — he donated an $11 million endowment to the Easton Technology Management Center at UCLA Anderson in 2016 — as well as an eager philanthropist in many different arenas. The latter is exemplified by his countless contributions to such things as the establishment of the Easton Sports Development Foundations (The Easton Foundations), an organization created in 1982 to provide excellence in leadership, facilities, programs, training and education for the growth and development of sports related to Easton products, including a special emphasis on archery.
Easton's obituary also notes that his philanthropy led to a world-wide impact on the archery and bowhunting stage, thanks to the building and support of archery centers around the world. Those include the Easton Archery Center of Excellence in Chula Vista, Calif., a part of the U.S. Olympic Training Center in San Diego, along with several other Archery Centers around the U.S. But Easton's philanthropic efforts also went global, including funding earmarked for World Archery’s Development Foundation, an effort that has enabled international programs in several places as well as construction of the World Archery Excellence Centre in Lausanne, Switzerland.
With a career defined by innovation and giving back, Easton was honored by numerous groups down through the years, including his Archery HOF induction in 1997. In addition to being a member of the Bowhunting Hall of Fame, he was also inducted into the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame in 2012, and also received the U.S. Olympic Committee Olive Branch Achievement Award (2012) and the USOC Olympic Torch Award (2016).
While Easton was a Californian during his lifetime, he was also a key figure in the state of Utah where Easton Archery and Hoyt are both located in Salt Lake City. Because of such involvement in Utah's business environment, Easton received the Utah Sportsman of the Year Award in 2014 and the Utah Governor's Lifetime Achievement Award in 2016.
There would be many other honors for the late Jim Easton, almost too many to mention here since his impact was so far reaching. Along with his HOF presence at the Archery Hall of Fame’s Springfield, Mo. location, Easton was a recipient of the National Archery Association's Thompson Award (1987), the National Field Archery Association's Compton Medal Of Honor (2002), and the International Archery Federation's Gold Plaquette.
Other honors included the UCLA Medal (2014), a member of the board of trustees for the UCLA Foundation (1985), serving on the Board of Visitors for the UCLA Anderson School of Management, being awarded the Little League Distinguished Ambassador Award, and being inducted into the Sporting Goods Hall of Fame. Easton was also on the board of directors from 2001 to 2006 for the now defunct education travel Ambassadors Group, a once publicly traded travel company formed in 1967 as it succeeded the People to People group founded in 1956 by President Dwight D. Eisenhower.
After living such an impactful life that helped so many along the way, Jim Easton is survived by his wife of 29 years, Phyllis; a son, Greg (the current head of Easton’s companies); a daughter, Lynn; and three grandchildren (Charlotte, James, and Elaine); stepdaughters Sloan and Stacy; five step grandchildren (Logan, Joey, Gavin, Jaden, and Daxton); and brother Robert Easton.
According to Easton’s obituary, the Easton family will celebrate Jim’s life and legacy at a private memorial service.
The family notes that memories of Jim and his influence can be shared on his obituary page, while gifts honoring his life can be made to one of several places.
Those include The Easton Foundations and the UCLA Foundation’s Jim Easton Memorial Fund.
And from our vantage point here at Bowhunter Magazine — especially here in the middle of the December holiday season — we might suggest a gift of a bow, arrows or accessories to someone you love greatly as family and friends sit next to the Christmas tree in a couple of weeks.
Because after all, Jim Easton and his rich life were all about giving and passing along our heritage in the worlds of bowhunting, archery, and sports. And giving something in his honor that will help keep the fires of archery and bowhunting alive and well for another generation, well that seems like one of the most fitting tributes of all to one of the icons of our world, don’t you think?