James Ramsey Bancroft
November 13, 1919 – November 15, 2018
James Ramsey Bancroft, a long-time resident of the San Francisco Bay Area, passed away in San Francisco on November 15, two days after his 99th birthday. Born in Ponca City, Oklahoma to Charles and Maude Bancroft, he and his three younger brothers, Robert, Charles and John, moved to Redlands, California in 1931. His father was a disabled World War I veteran, having never fully recovered from the Pneumonia Pandemic of 1918. Therefore, from a very early age Bancroft worked odd jobs. His favorite childhood job was as a “curtain raiser” for a prize fight in 1928, receiving $5 for two one-minute rounds. He was eight years old.
Always a good student, he graduated from high school at 16. After two years in a local college in Southern California, he enrolled in the University of California, Berkeley. In 1940 he graduated with an A.B. in Economics, a Monteagle Scholar, Magna Cum Laude and Phi Beta Kappa. He was 20 years old. He received his M.B.A. as a Flood Fellow from U.C. Berkeley one year later, passing the C.P.A. exam at the same time. Starting in 1941 he worked for McLaren, Goode, West & Company as a staff accountant. As World War II approached, he became a civilian employee of the U.S. Navy. In 1942, he joined the Navy. As an ensign he attended the U.S. Navy Supply Corps School at Harvard University. During 1943 he served as assistant supply officer aboard the light cruiser U.S.S. Oakland in the South Pacific. In 1946 he was discharged as a Lieutenant Senior Grade.
While at the University of California, he met Jane Marguerite Oberfell. He and Jane were married in 1944. They lived their entire married life in the San Francisco Bay Area. Jane died in 2001.
Returning from the Navy, he rejoined McLaren, Goode, West and, at the same time, attended Hastings College of Law in San Francisco. He graduated Hastings as a Mhoon Scholar in 1949. Upon passing the California Bar, he and Frederic Johnson founded the Spice Islands Company. He also personally represented Dean Witter and implemented private investment programs for Witter and Witter family members. In 1950 he founded his law practice which ultimately became the San Francisco law firm of Bancroft, Avery & McAlister, of which he was an active partner or of counsel for over 40 years.
Throughout the 1950s and 1960s Bancroft was active in real estate, oil and gas development and venture capital. Perhaps his most satisfying business relationship was as the personal attorney and financial advisor for the jazz pianist, Dave Brubeck. This business relationship and deep personal friendship with the Brubeck family started in the early 1950s and continued throughout his life, although Dave passed away in 2012.
He was an executive and board member of several private companies during his business career. In 1971 after merging a portion of his real estate holdings into the United Nuclear Corporation, a New York Stock Exchange listed company, he joined its board of directors. Within two years he had been elected board chairman, a position he held for ten years.
In 1982 he broke ground on what would become Bancroft Vineyard on Howell Mountain, east of St. Helena. His was one of the first large vineyards on Howell Mountain, a region which received its own appellation in 1983. Initially known for “Bancroft Vineyard” chardonnay, the 80-acre vineyard soon became renowned for Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. Beringer currently manages the vineyard, harvesting and marketing “Bancroft Ranch” single vineyard wines as well as blending Bancroft Vineyard grapes in its private reserve offerings. The quality of the fruit was never in question. Four years after breaking ground, production had increased, and Bancroft Ranch fruit was first included in Beringer Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. That year, Beringer Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon was named the number one wine in Wine Spectator’s Top 100 wines.
Throughout his career he was active in the arts and charitable causes, serving on a number of nonprofit boards. In the mid-1990s Bancroft established the Bancroft-Clair Foundation. The Foundation has supported many cultural, educational, environmental and religious organizations throughout the United States.
He was an active adventurer, visiting all seven continents. An avid hunter, he was a member of the Joice Island and Sorensen Ranch duck clubs for more than forty years. He went on three hunting safaris in Africa, the last when he was 78. Five years later he traveled to the Kenai Peninsula to hunt Alaskan brown bear on foot in the tundra, returning with a trophy.
James Bancroft was a member of the Bohemian Club for 58 years, from 1960 to 2018. He was also a member of the Pacific Union Club for 38 years, from 1980 to 2018.
He is survived by his three children, their spouses and six grandchildren.