Amherst Magazine
Deceased March 31, 2009

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In Memory

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.

    James%20Greene

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.”

 —Peggy Greene

—Tim Greene

Comments

Jim and I worked together on the last 3 reunion committees.  This brought a new depth to our friendship.  His unique ability to connect with so many of our classmates and remember special things about each individual was a great asset in planning these events.  When I chaired the 45th Reunion Committee, he was one of my first recruits to serve.  At one point there was a long discussion about what we could do to have a unique and useful souvenir gift -- something beyond coffee mugs or hats or key chains.  Jim developed the notion of having a black picture frame with a purple matting that would house the class photo.  Something useful, distinguished, facilitating display of our class togetherness.  He saw the promise of this idea, and when no one else would take the assignment, he took it under his wing and developed  a souvenir that we were very proud of.  I thank Jim every time I walk by the photo and frame hanging in my office.  I share this memory by way of demonstrating the qualities that made him a special person and friend.  He has been totally dedicated to our class and to Amherst for all these years.  He represented and fostered the connectedness in the class.  He created friendships and memories.  He loved to recount stories and lore about the College and our piece of its history.  His literary style was gracious and added depth to both class news notes and numerous In Memoriam pieces.  He volunteered to do things for the Class and the College that others would not or could not do.  I am going to miss Jim, especially at the 50th! 

Life is too short.  Keep all the valuable memories we can. Jeff

As I revisit Amherst in the time of our residence, I am really astonished at the extraordinary care our class has for each other and for others.  We have been giving most of our lives to make things,  souls and lives around us better.   I knew Jim to be a good man, an inspiration and delight to all who came within his orbit.  I claim no special relationship such as other classmates enjoyed with Jim, but he is an omnipresent personality  wherever he is.  We shall all miss a good man who cared and was deeply fond of Amherst.  Rest in peace.  Dick Howland

Life is too short.  Sadness at the loss of a valuable person.  jeff

I haven't seen much of Tiny since Amherst years, but I always considered him a friend, and remember how warmly he welcomed me back when I visited from MIT in senior year. Our class will be the weaker for having lost him and all he did for us. 

Dick Hardaway

It was always fun to see Jim again at reunions, and to exchange emails in between.  I'll miss him.

It is a great compliment in Italian to refer to a "persona schietta" which is impossible to translate with justice, but which suggests utter lack of contamination, and this phrase keeps coming back to me as I reflect on contacts with JG.

I learned at one of the reunions (can't remember which) that Jim was an opera lover and that he frequented Glimmerglass opera in the summer.  as I have been a some-time chorus member,  he and I probably shared some productions.  It brings to mind how little we all knew of each 50 years ago. 

All at Amherst who were fortunate to work with Jim  send our condolences.  Good spirit, dedication and devotion to his class and the Amherst Associaiton of Washington DC marked all the wonderful work he did for the College.  We are grateful to have known him and carry wonderful memories of our connection to him.

After Amherst, Jim and I both ended up in Washington for our full careers.  We became very close friends and saw each other a lot.  I last had lunch with Jim in February of this year.  Despite his health problems, Jim maintained his great enthusiam that day and continued to tell Amherst stories.  It is Jim's enjoyment of Amherst and its alumni activities that I will most remember. 

For our class of 1961,  Jim will always be Mr. Reunion for me.  He loved being back on campus, and I never considered missing a reunion because Jim would be there to make it a very special experience.  I would meet Jim at the annual Amherst-Williams football telecasts here in Washington.  Sadly, most of the time, Williams would win the game.  But Jim would never let a football loss interfere with his stories about Amherst or the opportunity to meet some interesting Amherst alumnus that Jim would know.  Jim helped me see that the purpose of the telecast was to get to know Amherst people, even if the football game was lost. 

I  hope that Jim's enthusiasm for Amherst and for life will be transmitted to those of us who knew him, as we try to move forward.

                                                                                                       John W. Lyon '61

I have very fond memories of Jim and his contributions to our class and to

Amherst.  I especially remember his broadcasting Amherst football games

from the stands over WAMF, the college radio station (now WAMH) and the

"all nighter" broadcasts from WAMF of the presidential election with his

fellow "WAMF Rats".  His continuing service to the class of '61 will never

be forgotten and I shall miss him.  His memory lives on in all of us.

Terras Iradient!

Meeting Jim as a fresh alumna in DC in 2000 solidified my desire to stay connected to Amherst. He would put out soda and popcorn for our Alumni Association meetings as we drummed up ideas about bringing the spirit of collegiate life at Amherst to our post-collegiate lives. From volunteering at the food bank to taking in Caps and Nationals games, Jim loved it all. Somewhere I have a wonderful picture of him with the Capitals' mascot Slapshot. He was a friend to all and I will sorely miss him.

Allie (Lee) Wittkamp '00

 

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