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James Mahoney, champion of sustainability at Bank of America and Stanford, dies at 67

Aug 31, 2020

By Mark Golden

This article is adapted fromthe obituary written by his family.

On August 8, Bank of America, Stanford University and the world lost a passionate advocate for sustainability, James E. Mahoney.

Mahoney, age 67, passed away at his home in Newton, Mass. due to complications related to an accident a year ago while he was pursuing another of his passions ­­– cycling. As Bank of America’s global corporate communications and public policy executive, Mahoney strongly and successfully advocated for support of research at Stanford and elsewhere on sustainable energy technology and on the finance of sustainability broadly, especially in the world’s developing economies.

“Recalling the first time I spoke with Jim, he called, out of the blue, to say that he was interested in supporting research on making coal cleaner," said Sally Benson, director of the Global Climate & Energy Project and co-director of the Precourt Institute for Energy at Stanford.

"After a lengthy discussion, he agreed that supporting a broad portfolio of clean energy options made more sense. And so began our relationship with Jim and the Bank of America,”  said Benson. “Jim was one of the most effective people I have ever known. If he said he was going to make something happen, he did.

portrait photo of Jim Mahone
Jim Mahoney

"I can’t express my sense of loss. Jim will be missed by so many. We were all hanging on for his recovery from that terrible accident,” said Benson. “Jim was an inspiration and friend to me – I will miss his good advice, wonderful sense of humor and generous spirit.”

Mahoney spearheaded Bank of America’s partnership with Stanford. In 2013, the company became a sponsor of the Global Climate & Energy Project, a $225-million effort to invent a broad swath of sustainable energy technologies. Bank of America appointed Mahoney as its representative on the project’s management committee. In 2018, Bank of America became a founding member of the Precourt Institute for Energy’s Strategic Energy Alliance by funding the alliance’s Sustainable Finance Initiative. Later that year at Stanford’s Global Energy Forum, Bank of America’s chairman and chief executive Brian Moynihan discussed how his bank works with companies on sustainability and the bank’s $125-billion environmental business initiative at that time. Anne Finucane, the bank’s vice chairman, will speak at the online Global Energy Dialogues on Sept. 15.

“Jim was one of those people who just made us better than we otherwise would be,” Moynihan said in a statement. “He had a sense of the outside in, reading a situation as few could and ushering us through big opportunities as well as difficult times with wisdom, humor and great thinking. He led by standing with you.”

Mahoney was a board member of the National Urban League, of the New England Council, and the U. S. Chamber of Commerce Center for Capital Markets. According to the obituary written by his family, Mahoney recently become interested in substance use disorder counseling and earned a counseling certification from the University of Massachusetts. This led him to work with men struggling with addiction at the Suffolk County House of Correction. Mahoney told his family that the evenings he spent with the men at the jail after a long workday at Bank of America gave him perspective and energized him to do even more.

“Jim was the consummate gentleman, a great friend to Stanford and a widely respected representative of Bank of America,” said Thomas Heller, faculty director of the Sustainable Finance Initiative and emeritus professor of Stanford Law School. “My hope is that even a small drop of Jim’s spirit and courage will reappear in the evolving plans that encompass our initiative, as recognition of the ambitions and contributions with which he left us.”

During his 25 years at Bank of America and its predecessor FleetBoston, Mahoney led public policy, strategy, issues management, media relations and communications globally.  More recently, he concentrated his efforts on key public policy issues, like clean energy, low-carbon financing solutions and delivering on the bank’s environmental commitment years ahead of schedule, only to help establish a new, $300-billion goal. Mahoney helped Bank of America collaborate with Harvard, Georgetown and The World Economic Forum, as well as Stanford. “Those partnerships endure,” the family wrote.

“A true leader, visionary and friend, Jim had a unique ability to align key players in pursuit of positive impact,” said Alicia Seiger, managing director of the Sustainable Finance Initiative. “He was also really fun to work with. His unwavering sense of purpose will remain a guiding light for us, and he will be missed.”

Mahoney is survived by his wife Margaret “Peggy” McLoughlin; his children Caitria, Jake, and Gracia; his seven brothers and sisters; seventeen nieces and nephews; eight grandnieces and nephews; and his former wife Patricia Leydon, the mother of his children. He was born in Newton on September 7, 1952. He graduated from Colby College in Maine in 1974 and earned a master’s degree from Harvard in public health policy.

Before working for Bank of America, Mahoney was chief spokesman for the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston. He also worked in Jerry Brown’s first administration as the California’s governor on technology policy, when he focused on environmental issues.

According to Mahoney’s family, the words of Irish poet Seamus Haney reflect well the challenges of Jim’s last year: “Even if the hopes you started out with are dashed, hope has to be maintained.”