James W. McCormick, raconteur, lover of humanity and of life, beloved husband, father, grandfather, and friend and mentor to so many, died peacefully at home July 13, 2023 at the age of 92.
Jim was born in Westerly, to Marion (née Purtill) McCormick and James McCormick. He loved Westerly and spent most of his life there; he often said that he saw no real reason to go anywhere else.
Jim went to boarding school at Portsmouth Priory in Portsmouth, Rhode Island at the age of thirteen. After graduation, he attended Harvard, where he earned his bachelor’s degree in economics in 1952. His first job was at B. Altman’s in New York City, interrupted by his draft into the Korean War. He served his country in the Army for two years, primarily as a radio operator, near the front lines in Korea. He later spent time studying and traveling in Europe (famously borrowing black shoe polish to make his brown shoes presentable at a last minute black-tie dinner where he was seated next to the Duchess of Windsor), and later in Cuba, leaving quickly at the end of 1958, just before Castro overthrew the Batista government.
In 1960, he married Sally McVay and they settled down in Westerly, where they raised their three children, Daniel, Peter, and Rachel. At the same time, he took the helm of McCormick’s Department Store, which had been started by his father decades earlier, and he successfully ran the store until 1993. Many of the “girls” who worked there had been hired by his father, and they stayed with the store well into their seventies. Jim treated them as family.
After the store closed, he embarked on a second career with WERI, where he hosted a radio talk show. Jim was rarely at a loss for words and was at his best telling stories and making salient and witty observations about the world around him. Unsurprisingly, many of his best shows were the ones with no guest.
Jim served for decades on the board of the Washington Trust Company (where he met his second wife Joan in 1985) and also at the Westerly Hospital. He was a long-time member of the Misquamicut Club and the Watch Hill Yacht Club.
Jim was a talented athlete. Although he was always more interested in the joy of sport than in competition, he won myriad tennis, golf and sailing trophies over the years, often coaxed into tournaments by more competitive friends and family members. He continued to play golf (often walking a few holes with just his trusty five iron), and family doubles tennis well into his eighties.
Jim was an accomplished pianist, lighting up countless parties with impromptu concerts and encouraging requests and singalongs. He played his last concert just six days before he died. Jim truly enjoyed being with people, and opened his doors to all, often letting friends, and friends of friends, stay in his home for weeks on end. He was known for literally “giving people the shirt off his back,” or the hat he was wearing. He particularly enjoyed giving away McCormick’s Store t-shirts and sweatshirts, and continued to have them made long after the store closed. They could not be purchased, only given — or, more properly, earned.
Jim was a master of appreciation and of living in the moment. He would often say, “If I had to leave right now, it would all be worth it.”
Jim was predeceased by his older sister Anne and younger brother John. His living family includes his wife of thirty-seven years, Joan Ambrose McCormick, his children Dan (and wife Kate), Pete, and Rachel (and husband Chris), and stepdaughters, Michelle and Denise. He was the beloved “Poppy” to his grandchildren and step-grandchildren, Zoe, Cowan, Tucker, Zach, Elizabeth, Annabel, Margot, Maggie, and Rory. He also leaves sister-in-law Karin, many nieces and nephews, and too many dear friends to mention.
Burial will be a private family affair. There will be a celebration of Jim’s life in August, with details to be announced at a later date. If you would like to honor Jim’s legacy, take time to appreciate the magical properties of storytelling. Reach out to someone and tell them your story. Then listen to theirs.
Gaffney-Dolan Funeral Home, 59 Spruce St., Westerly is in charge of the arrangements. For online condolences please visit www.gaffneydolanfuneralhome.com