James Ram­sey Ban­croft

Novem­ber 13, 1919 – Novem­ber 15, 2018

San Francisco Chronicle (Sunday) - - LIFE TRIBUTES -

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.

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