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James N. Goodrich, 75

James “Jim” Neil Goodrich, a longtime Westport resident and husband of Luisa Francoeur, died Nov. 1 at Yale-New Haven Hospital while being treated for Acute Myeloid Leukemia. He was 75.

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Jim Goodrich: second career in education. Contributed photo

He had a big heart which encompassed a wide variety of communities, and which embraced him in return.

Jim is fondly remembered as someone who genuinely cared about others and went out of his way to render assistance.

Sometimes this was to his detriment, as illustrated by an episode in Colorado. When he enthusiastically helped push a stranger’s car out of the snow, he tore loose his biceps and had to cut short his vacation.

After retiring from a career in business in and around New York City, he started a new career in the Westport Public School system.

He began as a disciplinarian at Bedford Middle School and followed his last eighth grade class to Staples High School. There he hit his stride as a substitute teacher, mentor, coach, and sports superfan over the last 15 years.

One of the first communities he found for himself at Staples was as a volunteer coach of the wrestling team.

He was able to draw on his own experience as a college wrestler at Ohio Wesleyan University (where he was proud to say he was never pinned until his last match!) and got down on the mat with students 50 years his junior.

His involvement in the Staples community was broad and deep. He served as coach of the sailing team, adviser to the Challenge Team and Barbecue Club, firm but caring Advance Placement test proctor, and organizer of fan buses and cheers for the boys soccer team.

He was born in Ridgewood, New Jersey in 1943 to the late Harry and Elizabeth Goodrich, and lived in New Jersey until college.

After his graduation from OWU in 1965, followed by a stint in its admissions office, Jim was drafted into the army. He served his country from 1966 to 1969 as an Army lieutenant at Ft. Davis, Panama Canal.

He rose from the commander of Company B (overseeing over 250 men) to operations and training, where he was responsible for 1,500 indirect reports at the battalion level.

Both capacities were well above the actual rank that he carried. He executed his assignments with distinction, and was awarded the Army Commendation of Honor. 

He was a true officer and gentleman but never let his assignments get in his way of having fun. He earned the love and respect of his troops. 

His time in Panama opened Jim’s eyes to different ways of life in the world. He embraced the opportunity to spend time in Latin America and on the water, cementing lifelong passions for travel and boating.

Jim and Luisa took many trips together to locations nearby and far-flung, and continued sailing and power boating, crisscrossing the Northeast through rivers, canals, and up and down the coast, often with fellow members of their beloved Saugatuck Harbor Yacht Club.

Jim’s love of sailing was so inescapably acute that as soon as he learned his daughter was pregnant with his first grandson, he immediately bought a small catboat on which to teach him to sail. In some seven years, he’ll be big enough to enjoy it.

Jim’s love of life — and genuine joy in everyone he met — extended to one of his side gigs: marriage officiant for choice friends and loved ones. His preparation, insights and loving demeanor made the weddings he officiated special not only for the newlyweds, but for all who attended.

Jim spent time every summer since 1951 in Wellfleet, Massachusetts on Cape Cod, in a cinder block cottage built by his parents on land gifted to them by parishioners of his father’s church.

Every year his family made the trip north from New Jersey, passing through Westport. It was the views of the Saugatuck from that vacation-bound route that called him to first make his home here in 1975. Westport has been his home ever since.

In addition to his wife Luisa, he is survived by his daughter Lisa Page, her husband William; stepsons Bartolomaeus Ryley and Andrew McWilliams, Andrew’s partner Linsey Hempel; grandson Nicolas, and Jim’s sister Beth Millikan and her husband, Al.

Jim died after receiving a stem cell transplant from his daughter in a valiant effort to, as he put it, “extend a happy life.” Indeed, it was and will be so remembered.

A memorial service will be held on Saturday, Dec. 1 at 11 a.m. at the Unitarian Church, 10 Lyons Plains Road, with a reception to follow at Saugatuck Harbor Yacht Club, 6 Great Marsh Road.

Condolences for the family may be left online at http://www.hardingfuneral.com.

In lieu of flowers, donations in Jim’s memory may be made to: Hudson River Community Sailing (P.O. Box 20677, New York, NY 10011; http://www.hudsonsailing.org), the Freedom of the Press Foundation (601 Van Ness Ave., San Francisco, CA 94102; http://www.freedom.press), or Staples Tuition Grants (P.O. Box 5159, Westport, CT 06881-5159; http://www.staplestuitiongrants.org).

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