James Maxwell Coyle died peacefully on November 8, 2023. His life was rich in accomplishment achieved through a lifetime of care, study, effort, and joy. Wise, compassionate, principled, and humble, Jim was a person who surprised many when they first met him. He hid his wonderfully dry wit behind his crewcut – that always threw them – and delivered his friendly barbs in a deadpan manner. Beneath his Clark Kent demeanor, he was something of a super man.
Born June 4, 1934, in Hartford, CT, to Mr and Mrs. John Coyle, Jim grew up in Fairfield, CT, attended Fairfield Country Day School and then public schools until his sophomore year in high school, transferred to Taft, and graduated in 1952. Four years later, he would graduate cum laude from Yale with a BA in history.
With his degree in hand, Jim returned to Taft for two years to begin his illustrious 40-plus years working in education. At Taft, he taught a rather impressive combination of courses in history, English, and math while also coaching. He left Taft to enter the U.S. Army and, for three years, worked in Counter Intelligence. Upon his honorable discharge, Jim served for 13 years on the faculty of the King School as a coach, teacher of history, Director of Admissions, College Counselor, and Acting Headmaster. Though he probably could have filled all of these roles simultaneously, he did not because he had some additional goals. He graduated with an MA in history from Columbia and married the love of his life, Marg, in 1962. While still at King, Marg and Jim were blessed with two daughters, Christi and Jill, whom he loved with all his heart.
Although the preceding paragraph might have been fulfilling enough for most people, Jim being Jim was not finished yet. He accepted the position of Headmaster at Greens Farms Academy, a place he would work for the next twenty-six years and love for the remainder of his life. Not only did Jim love his job at GFA, he said it was “the best job in the world.” As proof, his license plate proudly proclaimed, “HDMSTR.”
Two years prior to Jim’s arrival, GFA had changed from an all-girls’ to a coed institution. To offer some sense of GFA’s growth under Jim’s leadership, when he arrived there were a total of 305 students, 68 of whom were male. When Jim retired, a year earlier than expected, there were 535 students, and the ratio of boys to girls was near 50%. In Jim’s mind, he retired a year early “because I realized that I’d made this place about as good as I can make it.” That sense may have been the result of the evaluation of the New England Association of Independent Schools. As Mr. Scott Reisinger, the school’s assistant headmaster for ten years, stated “The NEAIS “found the place to be very happy and built on respect and trust. That’s the model Jim set from the top.”
When Jim retired, he and Marg (and beloved dog, Daisy) moved to Tucson; most said so that he could play golf more often. However, Jim often said that when he stepped off the plane, Tucson just felt like home. Play golf he would, but Jim also loved spending time with his family, reading, doing crosswords, watching the Yankees, and making the best strawberry daquiris in the nation. Though some might be surprised, he also became an avid user of social media. Mr. Coyle? Yes. Jim loved his work because he loved helping students become better students and people; their welfare was always his main concern and interest. With the advent of social media, he had the opportunity of reconnecting with many of them, delighting in seeing them prosper and grow, sharing with them the sorrows and joys of life.
Jim Coyle was a great man and those who knew him, loved him. We were truly fortunate for the time we were able to be in his marvelous company.
Christi predeceased her father. Jim is survived by his wife, Margaret Coyle, his daughter Jill and her husband Steve Butler, his sister Dianne Post, his nephew Nathaniel Putnam, and nieces Sara and Jenny Putnam. In lieu of flowers, donations may be sent to Greens Farms Academy.
Published by Westport-News on Nov. 17, 2023.