Capt. James E. Pillsbury ’78

On Jan. 15, 2023, Captain James Elliott “Jim” Pillsbury, U.S.N. (Retired), departed on his final voyage. He was born Oct. 2, 1956, in Weymouth, Mass., to Joanne Elliott Pillsbury and Charles Peterson Pillsbury. He is survived by his three sons, Charlie, Elliott and James; his best friend and former wife Marcy Arthur Pillsbury; James’ partner Emma Robinson; his aunt Martha Elliott; and his sister Susan Pillsbury Small, her husband David, and their son Adam.

Jim was raised in Marshfield, Mass. While growing up, he worked for his family’s business, the Weymouth Lumber Company, and spent summers at the family home in Thomaston on the coast of Maine. Jim had always shared his father’s love for maritime life. After graduating from Marshfield High School in 1974, he entered the U.S. Navy ROTC program at Maine Maritime Academy. He graduated in 1978, with a B.S. in marine engineering.

Shortly thereafter, he was interviewed by Admiral Hyman Rickover and accepted into the Navy nuclear submarine program. After excelling in the Navy Nuclear Power Training course, Jim’s first assignment was to the USS TULLIBEE (SSN-597), where he served as damage control assistant (1979-1982). This was followed by assignments to the USS DANIEL WEBSTER (SSBN-626, BLUE, 1984-1987), where he served as chief engineer; Submarine Squadron 10 in New London, where he served as squadron engineer (1987-1989); and the USS GREENLING (SSN-614, 1989-1991), where he served as executive officer. In 1994, Jim was selected to take his first command, the USS JAMES K POLK (SSN-645). The POLK had recently come out of the shipyard after being converted from a Fleet Ballistic Missile (FBM) to a SEAL delivery submarine, carrying a SEAL Team and two small SEAL submarines onboard. The great majority of his three years in command of the POLK was spent deployed to the Mediterranean Theater, operating in support of allied missions in the Baltic region and developing tactics for future generations of submariners. After his change of command in August 1997, Jim received orders to COMSUBGRU 8 in Naples, Italy, where he served as the operations officer. In 2000, Jim reported to the senior class at the U.S. Naval War College in Newport, R.I. After completing the course, he remained on the faculty teaching military history to officers from all branches of the U.S. military and to senior officers from over 50 international militaries. His final active-duty tour was as the commanding officer, Officer Training Command, Newport. After his active duty retirement in 2007, Jim worked as a Department of Defense civilian for the Naval Undersea Warfare Center in Newport, designing and testing new submarine sonar systems for the Navy. Throughout his 45 years of military and DoD service, Jim was deeply respected for his seamanship, as well as his engineering and technical knowledge. His wise, patient leadership style enabled his shipmates (and his sons) to learn by doing, rather than by watching.

Although Jim loved serving his country, his greatest joy came from his family and friends. In 1983, he married Marcy Arthur and spent the next decade traveling the world. From Norway to Istanbul to Chile to Hawaii, any time for military leave was a chance to experience a new corner of the globe. Jim and Marcy welcomed their first son, Charlie, in 1991; their second son, Elliott, in 1993; and their third son, James, in 1999. Jim quickly took to fatherhood and always had his boys by his side whenever he could, filling the gaps during his deployments with letters, postcards and recordings of him reading bedtime stories so they were never truly apart. During their seven years in Newport, the Pillsburys had the great good fortune of living at Fort Adams. Jim was able to be very involved in the boys’ extracurricular activities, including coaching baseball, building Pinewood Derby cars, attending band concerts and offering gentle, fatherly advice. With all that he accomplished in his professional career, Jim was most proud of his three boys. Together they built humongous LEGO projects, binged sci-fi movies and visited every train, ship and science museum they came upon. They shared a bond of love and friendship that stands strong to this day.

Although their marriage ended, Jim and Marcy remained best friends, traveling with their sons and entertaining together in the family home in Gales Ferry. They built a large network of relatives and friends from across the globe, including dozens of cadets they sponsored at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy and international families they sponsored at the Naval War College. Jim Pillsbury loved his family, his country, ships, fast cars, military history, loud music, pies and especially his cats. He will be sorely missed by his extended family and friends, but we will all continue to keep him with us through the wonderful memories he helped us create.

Fair winds and following seas, Captain Pillsbury.

His family will receive relatives and friends from 10 a.m. to noon Saturday, Feb. 11, 2023 at the Mystic Funeral Home located on Rt. 1 in Mystic. A service will immediately follow at noon at the funeral home. His burial will be private. After the service, there will be a luncheon reception at the Mystic Yachting Club, 100 Essex Street, Mystic. Please visit to leave a note of condolence.