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James E. Mahoney, a bank executive who ‘made the world a better place,’ dies at 67

Bank of America executive Jim Mahoney 'did his best work in crunch times,' a colleague said, and quietly worked to help those society had forgotten.
Bank of America executive Jim Mahoney 'did his best work in crunch times,' a colleague said, and quietly worked to help those society had forgotten.Handout/The Boston Globe - The Boston Gl

The path Jim Mahoney followed took him from Newton to California and back again, and the legacy he left was no less wide-ranging.

In the upper levels of banking and politics, his expertise and confidence made any crisis seem less daunting. And in the evenings, without fanfare, he counseled jail inmates with compassion that was otherwise absent from their lives.

“Over the years, he did his best work in crunch times, in times of trouble, in times of crisis,” said Anne Finucane, vice chair of Bank of America, where for many years he was a top executive.

A longtime bicyclist fond of morning rides that stretched for dozens of miles, Mr. Mahoney suffered serious head injuries in a July 2019 bike accident. He was 67 when he died Saturday in his Newton home.

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“He really made the world a better place, and made everyone he came in contact with feel valued and important and heard,” said his daughter Caitria, of New York City.

Mr. Mahoney often attended Mass at New Roads Catholic Community in Belmont, where one of his brothers, the Rev. Thom Mahoney, is pastor.

“Jim’s spirit was just so expansive and so welcoming,” he said. “Everybody was important to Jim, and people felt that always — including members of his family. We didn’t like to share him sometimes. He was the one we wanted to be around, and we’d miss when he was gone.”

Mr. Mahoney spent the last 25 years of his career at Bank of America and its predecessor, FleetBoston Financial, where his most recent title was global corporate strategy and public policy executive.

“He understood and operated very effectively at the crossroads of public policy, politics, and news,” Finucane said. “He dealt with that collectively as a full-contact sport.”

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That included shaping strategy through the 2008 global financial crisis, when banks were the subject of scrutiny and criticism. Mr. Mahoney often was on the front lines, speaking to reporters one day, lawmakers the next.

The fallout was such that the financial world dealt with the repercussions for years, relying on communications executives such as Mr. Mahoney to explain what had changed.

“The major criticism of the financial industry was that it got too complex and too risky,” Mr. Mahoney told PRWeek in 2012. “We want to go 180 degrees from that and show we have done a lot to fix that problem. Communicating that in the coming months is my number one priority.”

Bank of America chairman and chief executive Brian Moynihan said in a statement that Mr. Mahoney “was one of those people who just made us better than we otherwise would be; 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.”

Working seamlessly with others for the good of all was something Mr. Mahoney learned early on.

Born in Newton on Sept. 7, 1952, James Edward Mahoney was the second of eight siblings. Their father, John J. Mahoney, was a lawyer. Their mother, Mary F. O’Neil, was at home raising the children.

Mr. Mahoney grew up in Wellesley as an accomplished athlete, notching two holes-in-one at a nearby golf club, where he was a junior champion, while in his teens. He also was the basketball team captain at Xavier High School in Concord, from which he graduated in 1970.

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As a boy, as a youth, and later as the siblings had their own families, “his warmth and caring personality really carried over to the way he related to everyone in our family,” said his brother John, of Dover. “He truly loved people.”

Mr. Mahoney studied economics at Colby College in Maine, from which he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in 1974. He also received a master’s in public health policy from Harvard University.

When Jerry Brown, California’s governor, ran for president in 1980, “he joined in New Hampshire and he then became the guy who drove me at every single event in New Hampshire and Wisconsin, so for several months, he was there every day,” said Brown, who remembered Mr. Mahoney as “a great guy, a very generous guy — everybody liked him.”

After the primary campaign ended, Mr. Mahoney moved to Sacramento, Calif., and worked for state government in the Office of Appropriate Technology, devising ways to help reduce unnecessary use of energy and resources — environmental initiatives to which he would also devote considerable successful efforts in later years with Bank of America.

“He came up with a bike ride-share program for the state employees, and that ride-share program is still going on to this day,” said Brown, who added that at the time it “was a groundbreaking program.”

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Mr. Mahoney’s marriage to Patricia Leydon of Newton ended in divorce. Along with Caitria, their children are Jake of Great Barrington and Gracia of New York City.

“He embodied unconditional love as a dad,” Caitria said. “He supported us all uniquely and was incredibly close to all of us. We adored him, and he adored us.”

Before joining Fleet in 1995, Mr. Mahoney had been secretary of the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston.

In 2014, Mr. Mahoney married Margaret McLoughlin, who is known as Peggy.

“My mother and Jim had such a special connection,” said his stepson Luke McLoughlin, of Wynnewood, Pa. “Their love and tenderness were so apparent as they went through this together, this past year. Together they faced his accident and all its effects with love and dignity.”

In addition to his wife, his three children, his two brothers, his former wife, and his stepson, Mr. Mahoney leaves two other stepsons, Ryan McLoughlin of Cambridge and William McLoughlin of Brooklyn, N.Y.; a stepdaughter, Clare Overmann of Silver Spring, Md.; four sisters, Mary Lou Cohn of Denver, Jane Ochs of Ascutney, Vt., Nancy Collopy of Holliston, and Cate of Minneapolis; and another brother, Dan of Wellesley.

The family intends to hold a private service and will announce a public memorial gathering.

At events such as one for Axios in 2017, when he and the former vice president, Joe Biden, were photographed deep in conversation, Mr. Mahoney was always the person everyone sought out, Finucane said.

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“You knew he would have the story. He always knew something you wanted to know,” she said. “Biden would have had to come over to him. That would not be Jim’s way, to make his way to the front.”

Indeed, she said, “Jim was not a man who needed the limelight — ever. But he was impossible not to notice because of his talent and his ability to see around corners.”

Inducted in 2019 into the PRNEWS PR People Hall of Fame, Mr. Mahoney “was a man of integrity and maintained a strong social consciousness for the city and people he loved,” said George K. Regan Jr., chairman of Regan Communications Group.

The limelight of Mr. Mahoney’s corporate life was most subdued at the South Bay House of Correction, where in the evenings he worked with men dealing with addiction. To do so, he had studied for counseling certification at the University of Massachusetts Boston.

“It wasn’t for attention, it wasn’t for praise,” Caitria said. “It was another example of him doing things for others. He always put other people first.”


Bryan Marquard can be reached at bryan.marquard@globe.com.