The Life of Jim Harron Sr. – and the Legacy of a Four Decade Long Tea Connoisseur

As many of you know we lost our patriarch, Jim Harron Sr., on January 18th. Through the many hundreds of emails, posts, and cards that you sent us we know what an influence Jim had on your lives. He had an insatiable curiosity about people, places, art, food, and life experiences that allowed him to connect with so many different people.

He was a truly wonderful and special man. In the 15 or so years I’ve been coming to S&V every interaction with Jim was such a pleasant experience. From his stories, to just his general demeanor, the occasions I got to interact with Jim are great memories. Just last month or so I brought a friend to S&V for the first time and we got to chat with him for like 10 minutes, and we walked out and I told her see why I love coming here, what a great group of people. She says “I’m upset, and I only ever met him once, such was the vibe he gave off.” I feel so fortunate I got to see him recently then, I will miss him.
Stephen R.

His career started in the newspaper industry with the Portchester Daily Item, Greenwich Times and with the New York Journal American. Then he transitioned into a career in textiles with Cannon Mills, Martex, WestPoint Pepperell, Bibb Manufacturing and Wamsutta Pacific.

Joan & Jim’s first catalog as new owners, 1977

His third and final career was as owner of Simpson & Vail, a tea & coffee company originally located in NY and currently located in Brookfield, CT. His start in the tea business comes down to being in the right place at the right time. On an early, chilly morning in the mid 1970’s Jim took his 2nd son, Peter, to hockey practice. There he spoke with another father and expressed his interest in looking for a new career. His textile career, though fulfilling, kept him on the road traveling and away from his family more than he’d like. “Are you interested in tea?”, the other father said. That father was the late, great David Walker of Walker Teas.

David had recently bought some shares in a NY mail order tea company that needed a new owner after the death of the previous owner, Lester Vail. Fascinated by this new world of teas, Jim and Joan invested in their future with a purchase of 50% of the shares in the company.

Until he felt confident in the products he was selling, Jim trained with David twice a week in tea tasting, tea processing etc.. In 1980, Jim and Joan officially purchased all shares of Simpson & Vail, and their great adventure began.

Jim Harron, Sr. in the office at 53 Park Place in NYC June 1980

Jim and Joan ran the company together for years, moving from NYC to their hometown of Pleasantville, NY in 1982. It was there that 2 of their 4 kids, Jim and Cyndi, joined the business.

Joan & Jim on the links 2019

In 1997 the family moved to their current location in Brookfield, CT. The venerable author James Norwood Pratt wrote a fantastic article about Jim and Joan for TeaTime Magazine. You can read it here.

Jim Sr. loved to taste teas, read about the latest tea and coffee news, and visit with customers. He loved to travel and he loved spending weekends playing golf with Joan, although, in his own words, he “enjoyed, but never mastered, the game of golf”. 

Jim Jr., Cyndi, Joan, and Jim Sr.
in the S&V warehouse 1996

He certainly was a wonderful storyteller and all around sweet guy. He truly loves what he did and loved talking with the customers. I loved when I’d catch him in the store and chat. He always had something interesting to say. I will miss that interaction.
-Debbie H.

He would often say that the best part of his life was his family. He and Joan were married for almost 60 years and worked side by side for 45 years. His kids, Jim and Cyndi, count themselves extremely lucky to have been able to work with him for so many years.

Joan & Jim October 1962

People have asked what Jim’s favorite products were. While some of Jim’s tastes changed over the years, he was a consistent Assam tea drinker as well as Formosa Fancy Oolong. For the last few months Jim was making a blend of Assam & Pu-erh tea which he drank every day. His coffee of choice was Mocha Yemen Mattari. As for the treats we offer. there wasn’t a cookie or candy we brought in that he didn’t personally try and enjoy!

In fact, Jim had developed diabetes and wasn’t supposed to eat any sweets. But as any employee at S&V can tell you, Jim was often sneaking treats when he thought Joan wasn’t looking. We’re not sure which was funnier – watching him try to be stealthy or when Joan caught him and he’d get that little impish grin and make up some sort of nonsense (“it’s just a small bit”, “I need to make sure we’re not poisoning people” “my blood sugar was great this morning”…). Most days he’d pass through the store and help himself to something. When we took our year-end inventory no one was surprised when the cookie counts were off!

Joan & Jim on vacation in Vermont 2018

I was fortunate enough to meet Jim in person during a visit(s) to Simpson and Vail, and he delighted me with his personal charm and knowledge about teas and herbs etc..Jim was most certainly “one of a kind” for many different reasons and I personally loved how approachable he was.
– Pippa (Martin)

What will Jim’s legacy at S&V be? We hope to continue his tradition of friendly customer service, a genuine interest in others, a hunger for knowledge, and maintaining a good sense of humor (even when life throws you lemons). We miss you and we thank you for your incredible blueprint on how to live a fulfilling life!


“Our first visit he helped us pick out teas and treats for our child’s 13th birthday tea party. His attention to us and enthusiasm for tea were delightful. He will be missed.”
-Jenny G.

Jim sampling S&V teas at Adams Fairacre Farms March 2018

Cyndi Harron
Cyndi Harron
Cyndi Harron
Cyndi Harron is the co-owner of Simpson & Vail, Inc., a family owned and operated tea company.

18 Comments

  1. Jeanene Arrington-Fisher says:

    What a beautiful life and a sweet and tender tribute

  2. Ken Brooks says:

    It was wonderful reading the lovely piece printed in the Danbury News-Times. Everything it said was true.

  3. Carolyn Jacoby says:

    Jim Harron’s kindly advice and encouragement, beginning in the mid-‘80’s from the S&V offices in lower Manhattan, set us on a wonderful exploration of South Asian teas. He’s remembered fondly with my morning cuppa…

    The tradition continues.

  4. David Cantor says:

    When my wife and I were first married in the mid-1980s, we lived in Pleasantville, NY. One day, we happily stumbled into the S&V store, and Jim spent a great deal of time talking with us and teaching us about tea. We’ve been regular customers ever since. We always remembered his kindness and depth of knowledge.

  5. MaryJane Oliveira says:

    Jim Harron , a wonderful gentleman who lived a remarkable life filled with family, travel, and an amazing knowledge of teas. It was a move to Florida and a search for great loose teas in Teatime Magazine that introduced my husband and I to Simpson & Vail. Jim was always a treasure to speak with about our Connecticut roots. It was terrific to join the S&V fans from across the Country. Jim made placing a tea order an anticipated phone call. Knew we would share a chat with a friend: Jim Harron . How he will be missed. MaryJane Oliveira

  6. Pam Ritter says:

    So sorry to hear this. Prayers for his family

  7. Roger Rohm says:

    Thanks for the wonderful memories.

    My wife Polly and I were living in North Tarrytown when we stumbled across the Pleasantville store.

    Polly was a lifelong tea drinker and we received an education from Jim that day.

    He sent us home with some (8-10) sample tins, some of which I still have.

    I am saddened to hear the he, like Polly have crossed over

    I remember Jim whenever I make a pot and have a cuppa.

    All the best

    Roger Rohm

  8. Bob Rouse says:

    Cyndi, Thank you for sharing this wonderful story. I am sorry for your loss. I am a long distance customer who discovered all of you just a few years ago. My cup of Earl Grey tasted special this morning…..

  9. Janis says:

    I never met him, but I wish I had. A remarkable man with a remarkable story, lovingly written. My condolences to his family.

  10. Louise Carruthers says:

    Thank you Cyndi, and all the family for such an inspiring & loving portrait of
    Jim Harron Sr. I was privileged to meet Jim on one of my visits to the shop,
    his knowledge and care so very informative, warm and welcoming.
    Thank you to all the Harron Family for sharing Jim with us,
    Louise

  11. Geoffrey says:

    Jim’s words, his handwritten letter to me, is framed and rests atop my desk to be seen and to serve as a reminder
    for me to honor his memory and to appreciate his shared ‘Common Sense’ of coping with ‘Life’.
    Thank you, Jim. Geoffrey

  12. Lisa says:

    So sorry to hear this, what a wonderful tribute to him. God bless and comfort you on your loss.

  13. Mark V Herr says:

    I feel quite blessed to have had the chance to speak with him at great length last year when I discovered (through a Tea Magazine), Simpson and Vail’s famous author’s teas. He was amazing to talk with as he knew many of the places and people that I know as a ‘native’ from Lancaster County, PA. I forget the entirety of the conversation, but I remember it was simply wonderful to speak with a person of remarkable mental acuity and memory. I have enjoyed the teas that I purchased and will purchase more in coming months (and years). This blog bio is indeed a most appropriate way to honor him. I hope, because of him, you all have many more years of successful tea/coffee sales and that you all continue in the way he valued each customer. Blessings!!

  14. MICHAEL GOLDSTEIN says:

    What a beautiful life and a sweet and tender tribute

  15. Wendy Robinson says:

    I met Jim Harron, Sr. about four years ago, when I visited the shop in search of a replacement lid for my cobalt teapot. I didn’t know who he was, but I never forgot his kindness, warmth, and helpfulness. My condolences to his family and those who loved him.

  16. Everett "Alex" Copher says:

    I enjoy seeing the picture of Mr. Harron, Sr. in New York, June, 1980. At that very moment I lived in Sri Lanka serving as a United States Marine Embassy Guard at our American Embassy in Colombo, Sri Lanka. That is the summer I visited various “Ceylon” tea plantations and became “educated” in the different grades of tea and, most importantly, how one prepares a “proper cup of tea” and what is the difference between “low” and “High” tea….
    Semper Fidelis!

  17. Joyce Hackenbrach says:

    I was very sorry to see that Jim Sr. had died, but what a superb company he has left as a legacy. I have been a mail order customer for decades and have greatly appreciated your superb tea and coffee selection and your stellar service. I recall, years ago, when a tea I ordered didn’t make it onto the ship. A rep called me to explain and help me select another tea I might like (and I did). Your service and personal touch are very rare in today’s world and I appreciate them very much. P.S. Jim Sr.’s favorites, Assam and Mocha Yemen Mattari , have also been my favorites for years, and were my mom’s as well.

  18. Elaine Chilcote says:

    I was so sorry to hear that Jim Sr. had died. Since sometime in the 1990’s I have been a mail order customer and have never had the pleasure of meeting Jim Sr. But I have always appreciated the family photos in the beautiful catalogs. It has been especially delightful to watch Paulina and James grow up. The teas from Simpson & Vail are simply superb, as is the customer service. It is so rare to find an excellent family owned company that cares about its customers. What a magnificent legacy Jim Sr. has left. May light perpetual shine upon him.

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