By Neill Caldwell*
President Barack Obama’s nominee, James B. Comey Jr., breezed through a U.S. Senate hearing on his nomination and was approved July 29 as the seventh director of the FBI. He will follow current FBI leader Robert Mueller, who has been director for 12 years. Comey, a Republican former deputy attorney general under the George W. Bush administration, won praise from members of both parties on the Senate Judiciary Committee for his extensive resume.
“It is in large part because of my confidence not only in his experience and his skill, but (also) his integrity, that I’m confident that Jim will be a leader who understands how to keep America safe and stay true to our founding ideals, no matter what the future may bring,” Obama said in introducing his nominee in the White House Rose Garden.
Comey, 52, was born in Yonkers, N.Y., where his grandfather rose from cop walking the beat to police commissioner. Comey grew up in Allendale, N.J., attending public schools, and went on to the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg. There he majored in chemistry and religion, and met his future wife, Patrice Failor.
In 1983, after his first year of law school, he was visiting Patrice in Sierra Leone, where she was in the Peace Corps. He came down with malaria. Only her quick action in getting him to a hospital saved his life.
In 1987, Comey joined the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, led by Rudy Giuliani. Former FBI Director Louis Freeh, then a prosecutor, was part of the interviewing committee.
The Comeys moved from New York to Richmond in 1993, seeking a calmer location for raising their family. He was a partner at the McGuireWoods law firm in Richmond. From 1996 to 2001, Comey served as assistant U.S. attorney in charge of the Richmond Division of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia. There, he pioneered Project Exile, a widely copied program to go after felons using guns in commission of a crime. The plan was credited with significantly cutting the Richmond homicide rate.
‘True faith in Jesus Christ’
“During my years of serving at Reveille, the entire Comey family was active, committed members of the church,” said the Rev. Steve Jones, former senior pastor at Reveille United Methodist Church and now the Richmond District superintendent. “Despite the many demands of his professional life, Jim effectively served in two primary ways: he chaired our annual stewardship emphasis, and he assisted his wife, Patrice, in teaching our middle-school Sunday class.
“It was in their teaching the middle-school class that Patrice and Jim were best known and most valued. Patrice was the primary ‘teacher,’ but Jim had a great rapport with early teens, a sense of humor and most of all, an obvious and evident true faith in Jesus Christ.
“Many of us who were parents, felt blessed that that our children were taught by Patrice and Jim; my now-grown sons still speak of Patrice and Jim’s influence on their lives,” Jones added.
“My most vivid memory of Patrice and Jim comes from the Sunday after the 9/11 attacks,” said the Rev. Mark Ogren, who was senior pastor at Reveille United Methodist Church at the time and is now the director of congregational excellence for the Virginia Annual (regional) Conference.
“I went in to check on the junior high class. Patrice and Jim were leading the discussion and then had the class members write prayers for the victims. That class was in great hands!”
In 1995, the Comeys suffered their own personal tragedy, when their 9-day-old son, Collin, died from a bacterial infection. Patrice Comey said that while infection is readily treatable and preventable, no one informed or tested her during her pregnancy. She lobbied the Virginia legislature in support of developing screening programs for all pregnant women and wrote an op-ed piece for the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
From 2003 through 2005, James Comey served as U.S. deputy attorney general and was responsible for supervising the day-to-day operations of the Department of Justice.
Standing 6-foot-8, Comey is hard to ignore. As a prosecutor, he handled the Khobar Towers terrorist bombing case, arising out of the June 1996 attack on a U.S. military facility in Saudi Arabia in which 19 airmen were killed. While in New York, he served as lead prosecutor in a six-month racketeering and murder trial against John Gambino, head of the Gambino crime family. As deputy attorney general, he prosecuted Martha Stewart for obstruction of justice in 2004.
Comey is currently a Hertog Fellow in National Security Law at Columbia Law School, as well as a member of the board of directors at HSBC Holdings. Comey also served as senior vice president and general counsel at Lockheed Martin.
The Comeys have five children: Maurene, Katherine, Brien, Claire and Abby. The Comeys are members of Metropolitan Memorial United Methodist Church in Washington. During their time in Connecticut, they have attended Southport Congregational Church.
*Caldwell is editor of the Virginia United Methodist Advocate magazine.