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Rockefeller Associate James Ford, Founder Of Acclaimed Stone Barns Center, Dies At 53

James M. Ford
James M. Ford Photo Credit: Contributed

James M. Ford, the founding executive director of the acclaimed Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture in Pocantico Hills and a longtime associate of the Rockefeller family, died on Friday, June 28. He was 53.

The family of the late David Rockefeller said, “We are shocked and saddened to learn of the tragic loss of James Ford. For more than two decades, James was a treasured family associate, who worked closely and traveled the world with David Rockefeller.

“In his evolving role with Mr. Rockefeller over the years, James contributed mightily to many important projects, among them his pivotal role in the development and management of the Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture. 

"James served as the first executive director of the Stone Barns and was a longtime member of its board. Today, Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture is an internationally known destination for sustainable farming practices.”

“James was a larger-than-life personality and a valued employee. We send our deepest sympathy to his wonderful family."

Ford is survived by his wife, Rebeca, and their sons David José and Daniel Luis. He was the son of Laura Ford and Jonnie Ford and brother to Jeff, Troy, Brian and Darren Ford. He was also the son-in-law of Jose Luis Muñoz Cano and Rebeca Esther Maldonado. He is predeceased by his brother, Derrick, as well as his brother-in-law Luis Muñoz Cano.

In addition to his numerous nieces, nephews, and cousins, he also leaves behind a multitude of friends from all over the world. He was part of the community of Pocantico Hills and was a dedicated and committed member of Church of Magdalene.

He attended the United States Military Academy at West Point and served in the Army. Afterward, he served briefly for former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger before being hired by financier and philanthropist David Rockefeller as his personal assistant. 

For the next 25 years, they forged a special bond in which James served as his behind-the-scenes security, advance man and confidante. Much of those years included traveling the world and assisting Rockefeller in his work on the world stage.

On a local level, with the backing and support of Rockefeller, and his daughter Margaret Dulany Rockefeller, Ford launched The Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture, as a memorial for David Rockefeller's wife, Peggy McGrath Rockefeller, who died in 1996. Stone Barns opened in May 2004 and set the standard for “farm-to-table” dining. Next to his family, this was one of Ford's proudest accomplishments.

The Stone Barns Center is home to the Blue Hill at Stone Barns, a high-end farm-to-table restaurant.

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