James J. Gaffney ’63CBA, ’07HON
As a highly successful business executive, James J. Gaffney ’63CBA, ’07HON has spent a lifetime making important decisions.
And looking back over his life, he recalls that the one that had the most lasting impact was the choice he made when he was still a teenager.
It was his decision to enroll at St. John’s University.
“I wasn’t very structured when I got out of high school,” he recalled, “and St. John’s gave me an opportunity to focus on what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. I got a great education, and it wasn’t limited to what was taught in the classroom. The atmosphere at St. John’s was very supportive, and we were all encouraged to make the most of our abilities. St. John’s believed in me, and encouraged me to believe in myself.”
Gaffney had every reason to believe in himself. His exceptional business acumen was apparent to everyone, and within three years of his graduation he had been named Vice President and Chief Accounting Officer of Molycorp, Inc., an integrated corporation that mined and processed ores, minerals and alloys.
He then became Vice President and Chief Accounting Officer at Creusot-Loire Steel Corporation, and after a few years the remarkable career of this incredibly gifted alumnus continued its rapid journey through a number of high level executive positions at a variety of national and international corporations.
During the course of his professional life he has served as Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer at Ayers/Chairmakers, Inc., Brown Jordan Company and General Aquatics, Inc. He also held tenure as President and Chief Executive Officer of International Tropic-Cal, Inc., KDI Corporation, The Meyercord Co. and Washington Industries, Inc.
“I’ve always found the business world fascinating,” he said, “and enjoyed dealing with the challenges that were part of heading up different companies. The excellent education that I got at St. John’s really prepared me for a wonderful career, and served as a solid foundation for the experience that I acquired all throughout my professional life. I’m grateful that St. John’s was there for me and got me pointed in the right direction. The University gave me a helping hand, and that’s something I’ve never forgotten.”
Gaffney has always believed in the concept of giving back, and has shown his appreciation to St. John’s in a number of ways.
For nearly 10 years he was a member of the University’s Board of Trustees and its Investment and Fiscal Resource Management Committees, and currently serves as Board Member Emeritus. In addition, he has hosted a broad variety of outreach activities, especially on the west coast of the United States, for alumni and friends of St. John’s, thereby broadening and strengthening the University family.
He is also extremely generous with his resources, as demonstrated by his long-standing membership in The Loughlin Society. It’s a striking reflection of his commitment to the University’s mission of making a difference for others.
“The Vincentian mission resonates with me even today,” he noted. “I think that St. John’s does a great job with fulfilling the mission The University really strives to be the modern day embodiment of St. Vincent de Paul, and all of us in the St. John’s family are encouraged to embrace those values as our own. The St. John’s mission is more than just words. It’s all about taking action to make a difference for others, which is something I believe in very strongly.”
Not surprisingly, the University has always had a special affection for this loyal and dedicated alumnus. St. John’s presented him with the Pietas Medal in 1995, the President’s Medal in 2003 and awarded him an honorary Doctor of Commercial Science in 2007. He was again honored at the Annual Alumni Convocation in May with the Medal of Honor, the highest award that the University confers upon a graduate.
“I’m very humbled by this wonderful award being given to me,” he said. “I never thought when I graduated 50 years ago that one day I would be receiving this special recognition from St. John’s. This University has done so much for me and so many others like me, and it will always continue to be an important part of my life.”