James V. Kimsey was born in Washington, D.C. and raised in nearby South Arlington, Virginia. Although his father's salary as a civil servant was barely enough to support a family with five children, Kimsey's mother stressed the importance of education and encourage her son to seek scholarships. He attended a Jesuit prep school in Washington. After one term at Georgetown University he entered the United States Military Academy at West Point.
After graduation, Lieutenant Kimsey served as an airborne ranger in the United States Army. He participated in the U.S. intervention in the Dominican Republic and served two tours of duty in Vietnam, where he acquired a working knowledge of the Vietnamese language and a lifelong affection for the Vietnamese people.
During his first tour in Vietnam, from 1965 to 1966, Kimsey -- now a Captain -- commanded a District Advisory Team in the village of Duc Pho, in Quang Ngai province. The previous team had been wiped out by Viet Cong guerrillas. In memory of his late predecessor, the young Captain supervised the construction and operation of an orphanage, which he has continued to support for over 30 years, long after the area fell to the Communists in 1975.
During his second tour of duty from 1968 to 1969, Captain -- now Major -- Kimsey served as Assistant to the Commanding General of Special Operations at Military Assistance Command Vietnam (MACV) Although he left the service in 1969, James Kimsey maintains an active interest in America's national security through his membership in the Joint Special Operations Forces Institute Advisory Board.
On his return to the United States, Kimsey embarked on a business career, investing in restaurants, financial service companies, information technology and real estate. He was one of the founders of United Financial Companies whose subsidiaries include The Business Bank.
In 1985 he founded Quantum Computer Services. He enlisted the services of Steve Case in running the company, and in 1990 changed the name of the operation to America Online, Inc. At its peak, America Online had more than 27 million subscribers, and was the leading independent provider of interactive online services to consumers. For the first decade, James Kimsey served as President and Chief Executive Officer of AOL, but in 1995, he turned over day-to-day responsibility for AOL's operations to Steve Case.
In addition to his work for America Online, Kimsey has served on the boards of Capital One Bank, EduCap, Inc., the advisory boards of Batterson Venture Partners, Lafayette Equity Fund, and as a consultant to Nanophase Technologies Corporation.
In 1997, James Kimsey resigned from the Board of Directors of AOL to run the AOL Foundation, a new philanthropic organization with AOL backing. At the time, Kimsey still owned more than a million shares of AOL stock, worth more than $78.8 million. The Foundation provides money to parents and educators for online learning and supports nonprofit organizations for which AOL employees serve as volunteers.
The Foundation's initial focus is on interactive learning, with grants going to parents and educators who want to use online services and the Internet to help teach children, particularly the disadvantaged. The Foundation's first efforts are concentrated on schools in the Northern Virginia and Washington, DC. The Foundation provides schools and learning centers with cash and computers, and has offered comp time as an incentive to AOL's 7,000 employees to volunteer their time to the effort. The AOL Foundation also supports community service organizations. In addition, AOL employees may apply to the Foundation for grants to their own favorite causes. Preference is given to programs involving online communication, and to programs that favor the disadvantaged.
imsey has continued to take an interest in Vietnam's progress, accompanying President Clinton on the first visit to Vietnam by any U.S. President since the war. Kimsey has also taken an interest in other nations' recovery from war. As Chairman of the Board of Refugees International, he has traveled to Bosnia and Cambodia to investigate the return of refugees, land mine removal and the other human rights concerns. In 2001, he was chosen by Secretary of State Colin Powell to serve as Chairman of the International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP), an organization created to discover and document the fate of more than 40,000 people who disappeared during the conflict in the former republics of Yugoslavia. Through DNA research, thousands of remains have been identified, allowing shattered families some degree of closure. In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on the United States in 2001, Kimsey deployed the Commission's DNA experts to assist in the identification of remains found at Ground Zero. After the ouster of Saddam Hussein in 2003, Kimsey traveled to Iraq to oversee ICMP efforts there.
James Kimsey continues to make his home in the Washington, D.C. area, where he was born and raised. Apart from his work with the Kimsey Foundation and the ICMP, he has assisted numerous charitable and cultural associations in his native region, including the National Stroke Association, Big Brothers of the National Capital Area, the National Symphony Orchestra, the Washington National Opera, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, the Campaign to Rebuild Education in Washington and Innisfree, a community for adults with mental disabilities.
The merger of AOL with multimedia giant Time Warner took place well after Kimsey's day-to-day involvement with the company ended. The ultimate failure of that historic merger would color the history of AOL, but cannot diminish the significance of James Kimsey's contribitions to the growth of the Internet or to the civic life of the nation's capital.