James F. Downey III
On June 18, 2021 James F. Downey passed on peacefully in the early morning hours in Thousand Oaks, California, with his daughter Beth at his side. He was 90 years old.
Above all, Jim was a good man. He loved his family deeply and found unending joy in being at the center of a sprawling and active clan. He was a man of integrity who treated all he met with respect and fairness, and those he loved with great affection and loyalty. He had strong principles, and lived by them. He also had a soft side and was renowned for crying with emotion when giving toasts, which brought everyone present to tears as well - a tribute to his Irish heritage.
Jim was born in Greensboro, North Carolina, but the family soon moved and he spent most of his life in New York. He was the son of James and Mildred Downey, and brother to Mildred (“Billie”) Hayden. He grew up and attended public school in White Plains, New York, where he met and fell in love with Sonja Fredriksen. They married and began a family in White Plains, then moved to Armonk, New York. Once the children were grown, Jim and Sonja moved to New York City and most recently, to California. Jim and Sonja were happily married for over 65 years, with 4 children, 10 grandchildren and 2 great-grandchildren. Their deep love for each other was familiar to all who knew them. Theirs was a true love story until the very end; the way that Jim looked at Sonja always showed his love throughout their lives, even to their last days together.
After high school, Jim graduated from Harvard College with honors, and from Harvard Law School as a member of the Law Review. He then began practicing as a tax and estate lawyer in New York City. He loved his work, and was well respected in his field. He was a longtime partner at the law firm of Webster & Sheffield until 1991, then spent the remainder of his career at Stroock, Stroock & Lavan. Even in so-called “retirement,” he continued the work he loved, serving as trustee for a number of estates. He always had a passion for American history and legal traditions; he was in the habit of carrying a small copy of the Constitution in his vest pocket and would gladly give a copy to anyone who asked.
Throughout his life, Jim loved sports. He was a high school state track champion in the half mile, and he later ran track and played basketball in college. He stayed active and fit throughout his life, playing tennis, running, and later, walking. He was always an avid fan of his children’s and grandchildren’s activities, whether they were involved in sports (swimming, field hockey, football, soccer or baseball) or in creative fields (visual art, theater, music). He closely followed them all and attended every meet, game, performance or art exhibit he could - no small task!
The family summer beach house on Mecox Bay, Long Island became the location for countless family and friend gatherings over the years. He welcomed everyone, and took great joy in these large, sometimes raucous events. Even with the house overflowing and the yard filled with campers, he looked forward to each and every visit.
His was a long life, well-lived. He passionately loved his life and his family, often saying “I feel so blessed.” He was greatly loved in return. He is survived by his wife, Sonja Downey, his daughters Laurie Downey, Julie Mankiewicz and Beth Fehmel, his son James (Jamie) Downey, grandchildren Kate and Maeve Downey, Phoebe and Ty Mankiewicz, Austin, Keagan, and Ryan Downey, Connor, Brody and Bryce Fehmel, and great-granddaughters Claire and Cameron Fehmel.
In lieu of flowers, memorial donations may be sent to Planned Parenthood, an organization he long supported. (www.weareplannedparenthood.org/)