Deceased March 31, 2009
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News of Jim Greene’s passing on March 31, 2009, came in a phone message from his wife, Peggy. Jim’s body had rallied many times, faced by a series of medical challenges, but his bout with persistent pneumonia was more than he could withstand.
Jim was our long-serving and indefatigable Class Secretary. In fact, his loyal dedication to this role provides insight into Jim’s life-long connection to Amherst. He stayed connected to his Amherst friends while he continued to make new ones through involvement in reunions, serving as the DC Alumni Association treasurer, Class President, and then as Class Secretary since 1996. (Co-Secretary Hugh Andrews joined him in 2001.) He was definitely a “connector” within the Class.
After receiving his law degree at Univ. of Michigan in 1964, Jim practiced civil defense law for 40 years, 25 of them in Washington, DC. He specialized in the defense of insurers in environmental, toxic tort, latent disease, and other insurance and reinsurance matters. In 1999, he was voted Defense Lawyer of the Year by the DC Defense Lawyers Association. Among his many honors was his admittance to practice before several state and federal courts, as well as the US Supreme Court.
We appreciate Jim’s special gift for remembering facts. Often these facts sparked his story-telling, his way of honoring the past and bringing a smile to the present. He could recount endless stories: from his Buffalo childhood, his Dad’s collection of Pierce Arrow classics, his education at Buffalo’s Nichols School, his days at Amherst, his many home renovation and repair projects, and his loving family.
We will miss his loyal advocacy of family, friends and organizations he served, the smile he brought in his stories, and his generosity of time and caring.
—Warren Spence ’61
A tribute by his wife and son.
Jim loved life. He loved family, friends, Amherst, Nichols School, history, sports, knowing stuff. He was a treasure trove of information of all subjects and varieties, from the global to the trivial. He was a storyteller. He loved music of most any kind, but especially opera, probably because the music expressed emotions he deeply felt but didn’t like to discuss. He shared his father’s interest in Pierce Arrow automobiles, his mother’s in hospitality. He loved meeting his siblings in antique shops or flea markets because, well, you never knew what you might find.
Born May 15, 1940, the first child of F. Robert “Poss” Greene, Amherst ’34 and his wife, Jane, Jim came to Amherst from Buffalo, New York, and The Nichols School. He and his siblings grew up enjoying sailing trips in the Bahamas, visits to the Pickerel River in northern Ontario, and the everyday adventure of life on the Lake Shore in the 1950s.
After earning his BA in history at Amherst, Jim went to the University of Michigan Law School, graduating in 1964. He loved being a lawyer, especially during the early years of his career in Buffalo when his practice was most about people and the problems of everyday life. He cared deeply about his clients. It didn’t matter how successful or wealthy they may have been; he treated them all with care and concern and was generous with his time while frugal with his billings. He took great interest in their personal problems and they appreciated it.
When a golden opportunity for his first wife, Susan, brought him to Washington in 1980, Jim took on environmental issues in his law practice, from the insurance coverage or “who pays” perspective. So, for his insurance company clients, he was involved in Love Canal, an area he knew well as a Buffalo native, and Times Beach, among others. He came to know everything you ever wanted to know about insurance coverage law, toxic torts, asbestos, and environmental litigation. Because he loved the world in which he lived, Jim was an early recycler and supported numerous environmental organizations; this was a natural direction for him.
Professionally, he was active in the District of Columbia Defense Lawyers Association, serving as Treasurer, Vice-President, and President, and was selected Lawyer of the Year in 1999. He was also an active member of the Defense Research Institute, the International Association of Defense Counsel, Association of Defense Trial Attorneys, and the Counselors. He was a member of the District of Columbia, Erie County (New York), New York State, and American Bar Associations, and the Supreme Court Bar. While living in Buffalo, he lectured on business law at the State University of New York at Buffalo, School of Management, and Daemen College.
Jim also had a lifelong interest in politics, winning a Ford Foundation Fellowship to serve as a legislative intern with the New York State Senate and later serving as Counsel to a New York State Senate committee in Albany studying corporate law revisions. He spent countless hours working for sometimes struggling neophyte politicians in Buffalo, including himself when he ran (unsuccessfully) for Buffalo City Court Judge.
In addition to practicing law and fixing problems for people, Jim loved remodeling. His projects ranged from a grand old Buffalo Victorian house he rebuilt, to kitchens, decks, a boathouse for the family retreat in Hope Town in the Bahamas, and numerous small fix-it projects. Many of these projects were done with his son, Timothy, whom he taught to sledgehammer old plaster, break light bulbs into a dumpster, tear down a garage, and love all things construction. He wooed Peggy by rebuilding her back steps (and cooking for her). For years, Jim used his skills as a volunteer for Christmas in April, which helped low income families and the elderly in Washington, DC, with home repair projects.
While in Buffalo, Jim served as President of the Board of Trustees of Westminster Presbyterian Church. He liked to describe his role as taking care of the physical needs of the church, while others oversaw the congregation’s spiritual needs.
Jim also stayed active with his schools. He served on the Nichols School alumni board in Buffalo. He was long-time treasurer and executive committee member of the Amherst Association in Washington; he served the class of ’61 for several years as its president, ultimately as secretary.
One of the last things he did as a volunteer, and one of the most satisfying for him, was helping some families of Pentagon victims of the September 11th attack get compensation under the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund.
Through much of his time in Washington, health was an issue. A diagnosis of diabetes in the mid-1980’s was followed by heart bypass surgery, a kidney transplant, femoral artery bypasses, five years of dialysis waiting for a second transplant, and more. He treated these incidents as inconveniences and, because medical miracles had come to be normal for him, he assumed there would always be a fix. One of his doctors described Jim as the most optimistic patient he had known. A friend described him as buoyant. You wouldn’t know from speaking with him what a bad hand he had been dealt from the health perspective. But, while his spirit was resilient and he was uncomplaining, his body finally wore out. Much as he tried, even going to cardiac rehab, he couldn’t fight off the pneumonia that finally took his life.
How did Jim want to be remembered? As loyal. That he most definitely was. He wouldn’t miss a family event if he could get there. He was quietly there for friends when they needed acceptance without judgment. He was enthusiastic about family members’ and friends’ interests, glad for their successes. He stayed in touch. He read the Washington Post with scissors at hand, and “thought you’d like to see” an interesting article. He mentored young attorneys and treated colleagues and adversaries with respect and good cheer. He loved being part of Peggy’s life and sharing his with her.
Jim was a conservator, a collector, a compiler, although not a conventional one. He had no display case, no gallery. He collected people and facts, but thought he had “too much stuff.” His currency in the world was knowledge. His riches were his relationships. The twinkle in his eye let you know he was on your side. And, “He always was funny,” a dear friend said. His greatest joys were his children and grandsons; his deepest sorrow was the loss of his daughter, Betsy.
As a former colleague described him, “Jim was one of the good guys.”