James Garnett Jr.

Obituary of James Mercer Garnett Jr.

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James “Jim” Mercer Garnett, Jr., of Darien and Cornwall Bridge, Connecticut, died on February 15, 2024, at the age of 68, with his wife of 42 years, Margery “Gigi” Ward Garnett, by his side. He approached cancer the same way he approached life, with optimism and strength of will, surrounded by family, and seeking expert advice. Jim leaves behind four loving children, Susan Garnett (Antonio Conte), Sofia Garnett (Jared Keller), Madeline Garnett (Alexander Cushman), and James “Mac” M. Garnett III. “Grumpa” leaves behind five grandchildren, Mario James Conte, Riley Ward Conte, Lila Fern Keller, Theo James Keller, and Arthur Chafee Garnett Cushman, all of whom brought him great happiness and will carry on his legacy. He is survived by his siblings, Jane M. Garnett (David Booth) and William B. Garnett, as well as his mother-in-law, Susan Ward, brother-in-law, Rodman Ward III (Gina), and sister-in-law, Emily Neilson-Levin (Lewis). He was preceded in death by his brother, Scott (Isabel Farrell), and his equally beloved sister-in-law, Jennifer Oppenheimer (Jonathan). “Uncle Jim’s” wise counsel and wisecracks will be sorely missed by his thirteen nieces and nephews.


Born in Greenwich on October 22, 1955, to James Mercer and Jane Scott Garnett, Jim soon moved with his family to London, where he began his education at Hill House, learning the English manners that stayed with him for the rest of his life. Returning to the U.S., Jim attended the Greenwich Country Day School (Class of 1970), followed by boarding school at the South Kent School (Class of 1974), where he was a tri-varsity athlete and senior prefect. He spent six summers at Camp Pasquaney, in New Hampshire, where he was recognized as “most faithful boy.” As an adult, Jim and Gigi supported the camp each summer by providing scholarships, enabling countless boys to attend. Jim was intensely loyal to his friends and family, and he was motivated by human connection. He credited these qualities to his time at both South Kent School and Camp Pasquaney, institutions he supported throughout adulthood. His legacy at both will long outlast his time on earth.


In 1978, Jim graduated from Lake Forest College. Always quantitatively gifted, he began work the day after graduation, embarking on a 38-year career in risk management in corporate banking. After working first for the Wilmington Trust Company, he made the move to New York City with the Chase Manhattan Bank. Twenty successful years at Chase were followed by sixteen at Citibank, retiring as head of Global Risk Architecture in 2016. Jim earned praise for navigating the bank through a period of increased regulatory scrutiny following the 2008 financial crisis. He spearheaded the firm’s policies on stress testing and represented Citigroup in front of the House Financial Services Committee. Always calm in a storm, he was described by a colleague this way:“Among his amazing accomplishments, he treated everyone with the utmost respect. As a result, he had a very loyal team, with many people working for him for over ten years—something that was very rare in the industry.”


In retirement, Jim served as chair of the Audit Committee on the board of Bankwell Financial Group and as a volunteer and a member of the leadership advisory council at Silver Hill Hospital. Jim also served 26 years on the board of South Kent School, most recently as chair of the finance committee, and was very proud of his instrumental role in developing the school's mental health program. Jim was a long-time member of the Wilmington Club in Wilmington, Delaware, and the Tokeneke Club in Darien, Connecticut. He was also a proud member of Verbank Hunting and Fishing Club and the informal yet religiously attended Great Cranberry Island Coffee Klatch.


Witnessing his daughters marry and begin their own families was one of the most sacred joys of Jim’s life. He was equally proud of his son’s special forces career in the U.S. Air Force. Jim was unapologetically authentic. He had little time for dishonesty, yet he had an unlimited capacity to grant second chances. He spent much of his time listening, often telling his children, “If you listen, you will learn”—a simple and powerful maxim he followed his entire life. Jim’s proudest achievements were those where he exceeded others’ expectations of his capabilities. Rather than diplomas on his office walls, he might have framed the job rejections he received from Citi and Chase as a college student. He had very little to prove to the outside world and never stopped working to be the best version of himself in service of others.


Jim loved a little mischief. Particularly when it came to playing a thoughtfully planned joke on friends and family. Those who had the privilege of knowing him will forever remember his infectious laugh, which if the story was good enough, could bring him to tears. He infused every aspect of his life with an irreverent sense of humor. He had impeccable comedic timing that could put an entire board room at ease. His humor was effortless and spoke to his intelligence as much as it did his joy in laughter.


Seldom seen without at least two dogs—his black lab riding shotgun—Jim was passionate about the outdoors and spent endless hours in the wilderness, often hunting or fishing with treasured friends. He treated spey casting in the wilds of British Columbia as a religious practice. He was a skilled boatsman with the unique ability to dock in any condition, working his vessels with grace and ease. He was never happier than he was when piloting his prized “Moonshot” toward Mount Desert Rock in Maine to marvel at humpback whales. To see Jim on his boats was as natural as seeing the sun rising in the east each morning—and you might have even witnessed the two happening in unison, if you were lucky.


In lieu of flowers, the family suggests contributions to Shatterproof or Ducks Unlimited. A celebration of life will take place at their home in Darien on March 14, 2024.

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