The Early Years
James. U. Blanchard III – Jimmy to his family - was born in Greenwood, MS, on November 10, 1943, the son of James U. Blanchard Jr., a Vice-President at Chicago Bridge & Iron, and Audrey Patterson Blanchard, a home-maker. He grew up in Houston, and then later in New Orleans, with his two sisters, Ann and Harriet. A bright student, he attended New Orleans Academy until his rebellious nature earned him a spot at Chamberlain Hunt Military Academy in Port Gibson, MS. In his junior year, his good behavior persuaded his parents to enroll him at Fortier High School in New Orleans. Jimmy loved literature, the Old West, tales of the Mississippi River and anything adventurous. Inspired by Mark Twain and with the help of a couple of friends, he built a sizeable raft and attempted to pole it down the Mississippi River, attracting the attention of local reporters and even garnering a photo spread in the local newspaper.
Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones that you did. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sail.
Tragically, on Halloween night in 1961 at the age of 17, while in his senior year, Jimmy was with schoolmates as a back-seat passenger in a Corvair that crashed at speed on New Orleans’ Canal Street. The car split in two, front and back, and he was thrown forcefully onto the streetcar tracks. Spending four months in the hospital in extreme pain, including time in an iron lung to keep him alive, it was discovered that Jimmy had suffered multiple fractures and a partially severed spine at T-5.
But Jimmy was not the kind of person to dwell on misfortune. Wheelchair-bound, Jimmy recuperated at Warm Springs, GA, made famous by FDR’s visits there. After returning home for several months, he drove down to Guadalajara, Mexico, to explore the challenges of living an independent life, staying for around six months.
A Love of Liberty
Upon returning to the U.S., he received his G.E.D. A medical student neighbor introduced Jim to the works of Ayn Rand, and he discovered a common cause for his passionate beliefs: objectivism and the pursuit of individual and economic liberty. He loved history and economics, and he became a voracious reader. In 1964, he enrolled in Louisiana State University in New Orleans (LSUNO), now known simply as the University of New Orleans (UNO). In those days, wheelchair-friendly facilities were scarce – no ramps or enlarged bathrooms with grab-bars; Jim often had to churn his way determinedly through mud and bump up over curbs just to get around.
He also started corresponding around this time with leaders of the Hard Money movement, reading extensively about sound money. One of the movement’s best-known advocates, Harry Schultz, devoted an entire newsletter issue to one of Jim’s submissions about sound money.
Jim - as he became better known, later on in life - met fellow college student Jacqueline Dumas Bereza in 1966, and they were married in 1971. Jim and Jackie shared a philosophy of liberty and sound money. Jim would put an advert in the local paper, seeking 90% silver nickels, dimes, quarters and half-dollars. Then the two of them would visit the homes of average Americans who had collected bags of silver coins, for them to buy at above face-value.
In 1975, Jim and Jackie started a small coin business in their home on Hillary Street in New Orleans, buying and selling gold Krugerrands, Canadian Maple Leafs, $20 Saint-Gaudens Double Eagles, Walking Liberty Half Dollars, Morgan Dollars and more. Jim would talk on the phone, buying and selling coins, while Jackie packed up the coins and took them to the post office for shipping to customers. As the business expanded, they relocated to the back room in a ‘camelback’ store on Oak Street in New Orleans. They gradually took on more and more staff, staying locally but moving to larger premises on West Napoleon Avenue in Metairie and later, to even larger premises in the Whitney Bank Building on Jefferson Highway in Jefferson.
A Gold Bug is Born
It was in the 1970s that Jim gained his reputation as a gold bug, a believer in the value of sound gold-backed money. In 1933, FDR had banned the private ownership of gold, making the possession of monetary gold a criminal offense. Thirty-eight years later, Jim and some fellow libertarians formed the National Committee to Legalize Gold (NCLG), with Jim simultaneously launching Gold Newsletter to lobby for legalization. He famously hired a biplane to tow a Legalize Gold banner over President Nixon’s 1973 inauguration, and he also held a few press conferences at which he brandished an ‘illegal’ two-ounce gold bar, publicly daring the U.S. Treasury to throw him in jail.
Jim held his first New Orleans Investment Conference in 1974 – still going strong, over 40 years later - and three times the expected number of attendees came to The Big Easy to show their support for private gold ownership; at the time, this was America’s largest sound money conference. President Ford re-authorized private ownership of gold in 1975, and Jim Blanchard is widely regarded as the man who helped to make it happen, an enduring legacy for which all Americans should be grateful.
Jim and Jackie formed James U. Blanchard & Company in 1975, a precious metals and rare coin company. The name of NCLG was changed to the National Committee for Monetary Reform (NCMR) the same year and over the ensuing years, NCMR’s New Orleans Investment Conferences have attracted hundreds of thousands of financially astute attendees as well as notable guest speakers including Admiral Hyman Rickover, Alan Greenspan, Ayn Rand (her last public appearance), Barry Goldwater, Colin Powell, Friedrich Hayek, General Norman Schwarzkopf, Henry Kissinger, Jack Kemp, Jeanne Kirkpatrick, Charles Krauthammer, Lord William Rees-Mogg, Louis Rukeyser, Margaret Thatcher, Milton Friedman, Peter Grace, P.J. O’Rourke, President Gerald Ford, Robert Bielberg, Ron Paul, Sir John Templeton, Steve Forbes, Walter Williams and William Buckley.
Born on October 2, 1979, Anthem Hayek Blanchard joined the family, and the next year, they moved into a new home on Hessmer Street in Metairie, a city on Lake Ponchartrain, just outside New Orleans. Named after the hero of Ayn Rand’s novella ‘(‘Anthem’), as well as Nobel prize-winning philosopher, Friedrich Hayek (‘Hayek’), Anthem attended Isidore Newman School in New Orleans and went on to graduate from Emory University in Atlanta, GA.
Against All Odds
Hard work and an indomitable spirit led Jim to achieve more than one can imagine in just one man’s life. Jim co-founded the Industry Council for Tangible Assets (ICTA); he was a Member of the American Numismatic Association; he served on the Board of the Cato Institute; he received the Ludwig von Mises Award from the Mises Institute; he was named Man Of The Year in 1984 by the World Gold Council; he published the Gold Book Annual in 1988; he was the co-founder and associate publisher of Louis Rukeyser’s Wall Street Newsletter; he wrote Confessions Of A Gold Bug in 1990 as well as The Cash Book and Silver Bonanza; he founded Jefferson Coin & Bullion in 1993, his second coin company; he founded the Blanchard Group of Funds which held $1.7 billion under management before being sold in 1995; he launched the Growth Stock Alert Newsletter in 1999; an avid collector of antique American firearms, he launched a foundation to preserve these treasures for posterity; creating Blanchard Mozambique Enterprises, he invested $3 million in 1997 in Mozambique to develop a 580,000 acre reserve, planned to be the largest private game reserve in Africa (after Jim’s death, the proposal never came to fruition).
By 1988, James U. Blanchard & Company had grown to a $115 million-a-year precious metals and rare coin business employing 120 staff, the largest of its kind in the world. That same year, Jim and Jackie sold the company to an investment partnership headed by General Electric.
Several years after Jim and Jackie divorced, Jim married Lesia Hnatiw in 1993 and adopted her two children, Adrianna and Darian.
An Amazing Legacy
To his credit, Jim never drew attention to his disability, never sought special treatment and never let his physical limitations stop him doing anything he wanted to do: driving a car, driving a motor boat, driving an ATV in the Georgia hills, swimming, snorkeling, canoeing, deep-sea fishing, gliding, chair snow-skiing and traveling all over the world, even including a visit (via a privately commissioned Soviet helicopter) to the North Pole.
As a libertarian, Jim was a supporter of freedom movements and liberty-seekers on every continent, traveling to remote places in countries like Nicaragua, Mozambique and Angola to provide moral as well as material support. He personally smuggled pro-freedom literature into communist countries, even paying for 5,000 copies of Milton Friedman’s Free To Choose to be translated into Polish and distributed to freedom-loving Poles behind the Iron Curtain.
Jim died unexpectedly of heart failure on March 20, 1999, at the age of 55 in his hometown of Metairie, LA.
Jim was a larger-than-life personality who leaves us a legacy that will endure for generations, a testament to what one person can achieve – against all odds – when a life is passionately dedicated to the pursuit of liberty for all and sound money. One of his favorite quotes was from the German philosopher, Goethe: