BENKARD--James W.B. James "Jimmy" Benkard, a brilliant litigator with Davis Polk & Wardwell who devoted himself to his professional craft as well as to leading and invariably improving an extraordinary number of civic and social organizations, died on April 1, 2014. He was born on April 10, 1937 in New York City, the son of the late Franklin Bartlett Benkard and Laura Derby Dupee Benkard. He attended St. Bernard's School in New York City, St. Mark's School in Southborough, Massachusetts and Harvard College, where he was sports editor of the Harvard Crimson. After college, he served in the U.S. Marine Corps and then attended Columbia Law School. In 1964, Jimmy married Margaret Walker Spofford, whom he cherished for the rest of his life. They raised three children, Andrew Benkard, James Benkard, and Margaret Benkard Chaves, and six grandchildren, Penelope, Dexter and Oscar Benkard, Evelyn Benkard Gaumnitz, and Maggie and Nathaniel Chaves. He is also survived by his sister, Joan Derby Benkard Jackson. Upon graduation from law school in 1963, Jimmy joined Davis Polk and spent his professional career with the firm, litigating a broad variety of commercial matters. He tried cases and argued appeals, including in the United States Supreme Court. Jimmy was beloved within his firm for his interest in guiding and teaching younger lawyers. After his retirement, he continued leading the firm's pro bono practice and mentoring the lawyers involved in the work. Last year, Jimmy was awarded the Norman Redlich Capital Defense Pro Bono Award by the New York City Bar Association, in recognition of decades of skilled advocacy on behalf of death row inmates. Jimmy was a Trustee of the Environmental Defense Fund and for years oversaw much of their litigation activity. He also served on the boards of Vassar College, St. Mark's School, Prisoners' Legal Services, and Teachers College, Columbia University. He took particular delight in serving as President of the Knickerbocker Club in New York City from 2003-2013 and as a Governor of that organization for four decades. Jimmy and his family kept a house on Fishers Island, New York where he similarly devoted himself to the community, serving for years as the Secretary and a board member of the Fishers Island Development Corporation, and as President of the Hay Harbor Club from 1981-1984. Jimmy was renowned for his skill at public speaking. As a colleague noted, Jimmy's comments always contained a rare combination of specificity, cogency, and humor. His speeches were unfailingly marked by wit and grace and were highly anticipated. Members of the organizations he led, as well as his colleagues at Davis Polk, flocked to events that under other circumstances would be tedious, simply to hear and laugh with Jimmy Benkard. A memorial service will be held at 11am on Wednesday, April 9 at The Brick Presbyterian Church, located at 91st Street and Park Avenue. The family would prefer memorial gifts in his memory be directed to either The Innocence Project or the Fishers Island Recreational Path Foundation, in lieu of flowers.
Published in The New York Times on Apr. 6, 2014