John Whitaker James, Sr. passed away February 18 at his home in Old Greenwich, Conn., surrounded by his family. He was 78 and had been living with Parkinson’s disease. A former resident of Madison and New Canaan, John was a beloved husband, father, grandfather, mentor and friend.
John was born on August 19, 1942 in Summit, N.J., the only child of Nathan Whitaker James and Dorothy Laffey James. He grew up in Westfield, N.J. and graduated from Princeton University (1964) and later earned an MBA from NYU’s Stern School of Business. He served in the U.S. Army, where he studied Mandarin Chinese. He went on to a distinguished career in corporate finance and banking, holding senior positions at Bankers Trust, Chrysler Capital and DaimlerChrysler.
A chance encounter on a train traveling from Washington, D.C. introduced a young John to Loretta Porter, a college student returning home to New Jersey. Noticing his new seatmate was heading to Newark, then in the midst of a four-day riot, John helpfully suggested an alternate route back to Westfield, noting they shared the same hometown. After John agreed to show ID verifying his address for his cautious companion, the two began a romance that continued for more than half a century. John and Loretta were married in 1968 and had four children, who will miss him dearly.
Throughout his life, John earned the respect of others by leading by example. In a world often dominated by loud voices and strident views, John was a humble but powerful source of kindness, patience and wisdom. He devoted himself to his family and community with remarkable warmth and generosity.
John served as Board President of the E. C. Scranton Memorial Library in Madison, supporting its recent renovation project, Board President of Christian Community Action in New Haven, and President of the New Canaan Community Foundation. He was active with the United Way, serving as local president in Binghamton, N.Y. and continuing his involvement in New Canaan. He was also a lay leader at the First Congregational Church of Madison and First Presbyterian Church of New Canaan.
John enjoyed traveling with his wife and prized the adventure of working overseas in Stuttgart, Germany and Copenhagen as a consultant to DaimlerChrysler. He played tennis and taught bridge to a steady flow of students using a players guide he wrote. He avidly traced his family’s genealogy, taking special pride in his connection to Civil War general and Medal of Honor recipient Edward Washburn Whitaker of Connecticut. He also loved the breadth and diversity of America, visiting all 50 states.
John is survived by his wife of 52 years, Loretta, and their four children: John Jr. (Elizabeth) of Riverside, Corinne (Thomas) of Old Greenwich, Laurissa (David) and Randy (Stephanie), both of Los Angeles. He had six grandchildren: James Porter, Adaline, Marina, Arabella, Louisa and Emmeline. The family will hold a private funeral, followed by a virtual celebration in the coming weeks and in-person commemoration once it is safe to gather. Details will be available at www.johnjamesmemorial.com.
In lieu of flowers, please consider a donation in John’s memory to Christian Community Action in New Haven (www.ccahelping.org) or the E. C. Scranton Memorial Library in Madison (www.scrantonlibrary.org).