James W. Scott Sr., 60, of Mount Laurel, a standout West Philadelphia High School graduate who rose to become a business executive, fund-raiser, and adviser to Nelson Mandela, died Wednesday, July 17, of heart and renal failure at his home.

Born in Philadelphia to Samuel and Shirley Scott, Mr. Scott graduated in 1976 from West Philadelphia High School, where he was a standout on the Speedboys’ track-and-field team and an honor student, according to an online resumé.

He earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Lincoln University, a master’s degree in business administration from National University in Sacramento, Calif., and a master’s degree in organizational dynamics from the University of Pennsylvania.

He “used his opportunities to improve conditions for others,” said his brother, Kenneth.

In 1982, Mr. Scott began his career at the Kellogg cereal company in Battle Creek, Mich., and held various executive jobs before becoming vice president of national sales. He and Teresa Wright married in 1984 and had two sons. The family lived in Illinois, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Texas, Georgia, and California as Mr. Scott was transferred. He worked at Kellogg’s for two decades before retiring in 2002.

Mr. Scott was a supporter of historically black colleges and universities. When Kellogg’s became a major sponsor of the United Negro College Fund’s Lou Rawls’ Parade of Stars Telethon, Mr. Scott co-hosted the event for several years.

He helped the nonprofit fund raise millions of dollars to provide scholarships for black students and to supply general scholarship funds for historically black colleges and universities.

Mr. Scott was asked in the early 2000s to join the Baltimore-based International Youth Foundation, which raises money to help disadvantaged children. He was named vice president of its global millennium campaign, “The Children’s Hour," which had been initiated in 1999. The campaign was successful, partly due to his influence, and that success caused him to make a career shift into nonprofit management, his resumé said.

“Surprisingly,” he wrote in his online resumé, “I was selected to help transform the country of South Africa, as the leader of a major health and education initiative.”

In post-apartheid South Africa, there was a pressing need for doctors. As president and CEO of Medical Education for South African Blacks (MESAB), Mr. Scott led an international effort that trained 2,000 black South African doctors and other health professionals.

James W. Scott Sr. pictured with South African president Nelson Mandela in the late 1990s.
Courtesy of Dr. Kenneth Scott
James W. Scott Sr. pictured with South African president Nelson Mandela in the late 1990s.

His work brought him into contact with Mandela, then the South African president. Mr. Scott served as an adviser to Mandela for several years, and attended meetings and dinners at the presidential residence in Pretoria, his brother said.

“James always said that you never know where life will take you,” his brother said. “Who would have thought a kid from West Philly would be sitting next to Nelson Mandela discussing life and policies on South Africa?”

Mandela appointed Mr. Scott to the board of the South Africa Education Trust, which raised funds to pay for the training. The effort not only produced doctors, but also helped lay the economic groundwork for a black middle class in South Africa, Mr. Scott wrote.

After three decades of travel, Mr. Scott came home and joined the School District of Philadelphia as director of parent, community and faith-based partnerships. The post allowed him to lead the effort to engage the community and churches in solving social problems that make it difficult for children to learn.

In the past few years, Mr. Scott’s health began to fail. He retired from the School District in 2014. Not one to be idle, he wrote a weekly column for SCOOP USA Media, an online journal and community newspaper in Philadelphia, Chester, and Camden.

Besides his wife and brother, he is survived by sons James Jr. and Austin; two sisters; another brother; and nieces and nephews.

Memorial services were Saturday, July 27.