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James Harkins Gardner
July 15, 1943 ~ July 1, 2023 (age 79) 79 Years Old
James Harkins Gardner, known as “Jay”, was born on July 15, 1943, in Evanston, IL to Charlotte Hoban Graham and James (“Jim”) Floyd Gardner. He grew up in Lexington, KY, on Desha Road, attending Henry Clay High School. He would always refer to himself as a “Kentucky Boy” and was a lifelong supporter of Kentucky basketball. Bringing his children back to Lexington to attend the Spring Meet at Keeneland and show off Lexington brought him tremendous joy.
After graduating from Henry Clay, Jay attended Purdue University, where he was President of the Sigma Nu Fraternity and graduated with a BS in Engineering. He then attended Harvard Business School, where he met his closest lifelong friends. The adventures and stories this group of friends created while at HBS and throughout their lives could fill a novel, and Jay truly cherished every moment he could spend with them, in Boston and across the globe.
Jay spent two years working for the National Institutes of Health before becoming Vice President of Gemoet, Inc in Rockville, MD. He moved to San Francisco in 1978 to start Risk Management Resources and spent 12 years as President. He deeply loved San Francisco and would spend the rest of his life in Northern California, keeping his homes in St. Francis Woods and Sonoma even after moving to Montgomery, Alabama for a two-year position as COO of KinderCare Learning Centers, where a dear friend from HBS was CEO. Jay then was COO and President of Discovery Zone and ended his professional career at Great City Traders, a position that allowed him to work and travel with his beloved wife, Shannon.
In 2002, Jay suffered a debilitating stroke that left him paralyzed on the right side of his body. He persevered through physical therapy and was able to regain the ability to walk with a cane and brace. He and Shannon moved to their home in Sonoma (“Dancing Bear Ranch”) full-time and Jay began playing bridge often, first as a hobby, progressing to teacher and eventually achieving Life Master. He was soon hired to be a bridge instructor on multiple cruise lines. Jay and Shannon loved cruising, and this allowed them to continue traveling around the world while teaching together. Jay and Shannon stopped cruising over ten years ago, but the memories made on those journeys together brought Jay much joy and laughter, even in the final days of his life.
Jay loved his family immeasurably. He was a steadfast, generous, and devoted son, husband, and father to Greer and Warren. Being a grandfather to Liam, Charlotte, Gardner and Georgia and watching his children become parents made him incredibly proud. Jay’s happiest moments were always spent in the company of friends and family telling stories–the man loved to tell stories–long ones, especially. He always loved a clever joke and found humor to be the best medicine in any situation. He also loved to play and watch sports, especially basketball, softball and skiing. Some favorite trips Jay and Shannon took with their children were to the BVI’s, Alaska, London, Washington D.C. many journeys to Montana, Santa Barbara and of course, multiple cruises. In addition to his beloved children, Jay raised 5 much-adored (sometimes more than his family) golden retrievers over the years.
Jay passed peacefully just before his 80th birthday. He is survived by his beloved wife of 41 years, Shannon, daughter Greer Williams, son-in-law Peter, grandson Gardner and granddaughter Georgia of Greenwich, CT, son Warren Gardner, grandson Liam and granddaughter Charlotte of San Anselmo, CA. Condolences can be directed to Shannon Gardner, 800 Oregon Street, Apt 176, Sonoma, CA 95476. In lieu of flowers, please direct donations in Jay’s memory to NORCAL Golden Retriever Rescue, 405 El Camino Real, Suite 420 Menlo Park, CA 94025 or at ngrr.org.