James Ramsey Bancroft, a longtime support of The Institute of World Politics, was a man unique in his own special combination of wit, generosity, and passion. Born in Ponca City, Oklahoma to Charles and Maude Bancroft, James moved to Redlands, California in 1931. From an early age, James worked a number of intriguing odd jobs, a sign of the versatility that would help define much of his long and eminently successful life. His most prized childhood job was as a “curtain raiser” for a prize fight in 1928, for which he received $8 for two one-minute rounds, at only 8 years of age.
In addition to a natural aptitude for uncommon adaptability, Bancroft quickly went on to exhibit a remarkable intellect. In 1940, he graduated from the University of California, Berkeley with an AB in Economics as a Monteagle Scholar, Magna Cum Laude and Phi Beta Kappa, at the age of only 20. Successfully pursuing his M.B.A. from UC Berkeley just one year later, and simultaneously passing the C.P.A. exam, Bancroft would soon volunteer to help defend his country, as the world was plunged into the Second World War. Serving as an assistant supply officer for the United States Navy onboard the U.S.S. Oakland in the South Pacific, Bancroft would leave the service a Lieutenant Senior Grade, and return to his home of California to attend the Hastings College of Law in San Francisco. Graduating Hastings as a Mhoon Scholar in 1949, Bancroft promptly passed the California Bar and founded the Spice Islands Company with his partner Frederic Johnson.
In 1950, Mr. Bancroft founded his law practice, now known as “Bancroft, Avery & McAlister,” and continued to pursue investments in real estate, oil, and gas development. Bancroft also served as the financial officer for renowned jazz pianist Dave Brubeck, a partnership and friendship that would last over 60 years until Mr. Brubeck’s passing in 2012. After serving as an executive and board member for multiple private companies during his extensive career, in 1982, Bancroft broke ground on what would become Bancroft Vineyard on Howell Mountain, a thriving operation that continues to this day.
Mr. Bancroft was also an active patron of the arts and charitable causes, serving on a number of nonprofit boards throughout his career. In the mid-1990s, Bancroft established the Bancroft-Clair Foundation, supporting diverse cultural, educational, environmental, and religious organizations across the United States. Equal to his passion for philanthropy was his abiding love of adventure, and Bancroft visited all seven continents throughout his life. He was also an avid hunter, serving as a member of the Joice Island and Sorensen Ranch duck clubs, traveling on multiple hunting trips to Africa, and successfully flying to the Kenai Peninsula in Alaska to hunt brown bear on foot in the tundra.
Most of all, James Ramsey Bancroft was devoted to his family and friends, dedicated to his community, and a unique man renowned for both his rare intellect, and affable manner. On November 15th, 2018, Bancroft passed away, two days after his 99th birthday.
“Jim was a longtime friend of the Lenczowski family who led a great American life,” commented IWP founder and president John Lenczowski. “He was a man who cared about his family, his neighbor, his customer, his business associates, his friends, and his country. He was a wonderfully generous supporter of our work at IWP.”
James Ramsey Bancroft remains sorely missed, and his life stands as a testament to both his own remarkable ingenuity, and the opportunities afforded by life in a free and salubrious nation. While Bancroft may have passed on, the values that gave structure to his incredible life continue to structure the actions, teachings, and principles, of The Institute of World Politics.